Last edited: January 28, 2005

Virginia “Crimes Against Nature” Law Struck Down?

Supreme Court’s decision in Texas case has implications for Virginia.

Connections Newspapers, July 1, 2003
Fairfax, Virginia

By David Harrison

It was a day Kelly Schlageter had been waiting for for a long time. After being on the books for centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down laws outlawing sodomy for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Although the Court’s case dealt with the law in Texas, the justice’s ruling can also be applied to Virginia and the 12 other states where sodomy is still against the law.

“It is a historic day in terms of gay civil rights,” said Schlageter, a founder and board member of Equality Fairfax, a year-old civil rights organization in the county that counts about 450 members. “The reason it’s so historic has less to do with actual conviction and much more to do with how the law is used in other civil rights issues.”

The Court’s ruling invalidates Virginia’s law, said Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-35).

“I wouldn’t expect legislative action because the Supreme Court has ruled and that’s the law of the land,” she said.

The decision opens the door for discussion of other issues such benefits for partners or adoption, Schlageter said, adding: “I don’t see it happening immediately.”

“The sodomy law’s invoked almost invariably as it relates to other issues,” she said. “The argument will have to change.”

The Virginia law banning sodomy has been in force since the establishment of the Commonwealth but it has not been applied very often. In one of the most recent cases where it was used, 10 gay men were arrested in Roanoke in 1998 for cruising in a park. The Virginia Court of Appeals turned down their claim that the law was unconstitutional in 2000. The Virginia code refers to sodomy as a “crime against nature.”

After the ruling was handed down, Gov. Mark Warner (D) issued a cautious endorsement of the new law, saying, “As with any Supreme Court decision, this is now the law of the land, and the Commonwealth will comply.”

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R), however, said he opposed the new law.

“As one who believes that the courts are to interpret and not create law, I disagree with the ruling and am always disappointed when a court undermines Virginia’s right to pass legislation that reflects the views and values of our citizens,” he said in a statement.

In Fairfax County, Supervisor Gerald Connolly (D-Providence), who is running for Board Chairman this year, said the Court was reflecting a general trend in the country at large.

“It’s not the government’s business to be intruding in heterosexual or homosexual relationships in the privacy of one’s bedroom,” he said. “That’s where the country has been headed for quite some time.”

School Board member Mychele Brickner who is running as a Republican for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors refused to comment on the ruling. “I guess I don’t see the relevance for the Board of Supervisors’ race,” she said.

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