VA House OKs Sodomy Reform
Thursday February 17, 2000
SUMMARY: Oral and anal sex wont be legal under a bill passed by
Virginias lower house, but making "crimes against nature" a misdemeanor
instead of a felony will greatly reduce the penalties.
A move to reduce sodomy from a felony to a misdemeanor squeaked through the Virginia
House of Delegates 50 - 49 on February 15. The bill was passed without debate, as the
House labored to meet a deadline for sending bills to the Senate. Virginias ancient
"crimes against nature" law applies to acts between consenting adults regardless
of the genders of the parties involved and irrespective of whether they are committed in
public or in private, although activists contend it is invoked with much greater frequency
against men seeking men in public places. In theory, if not in practice, the "crime
against nature" charge could even be brought against legally married couples.
The reform bills sponsor, Delegate Karen Darner (D-Arlington), has made at least
six attempts in some eight years to repeal the prohibition against oral-genital and
anal-genital contact, but this year hopes to succeed with a different strategy, reducing
the charge from a class-6 felony to a class-4 misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $250
fine. She said, "Most people do not know it is a felonious crime, with a one- to
five-year possible jail sentence and a $2,500 fine." Because its a felony,
those convicted "could lose their professional licenses and lose their right to vote.
You might say its rarely enforced, but I say its selectively enforced.
Lets wake up to the reality. A private act of love that occurs every day in homes
across the Commonwealth" should not be a felony. Darner was particularly moved by the
testimony in a committee hearing of a woman with disabilities that her entire sex life has
been felonious. Darner said she had been assured by prosecu! ! ! tors that the charge
would not be used more frequently if the penalty were made less harsh.
Although Darners bill was largely supported by the minority Democrats, they were
joined by enough Northern Virginia Republicans to achieve a bare majority and send the
bill to the Senate. One of the Republicans was Delegate David Albo of Fairfax, who
explained that although he and his colleagues "didnt want to make it
legal," they wanted to correct a curious legal inequity: that sodomy by a married
couple is currently a felony, while heterosexual intercourse with a prostitute is only a
Those portions of the "crimes against nature" law applying to forcible
sodomy, incest and bestiality will continue to carry harsher penalties.
In the midterm rush, some other bills of interest also advanced. By 58 - 39, Delegates
approved a requirement for public schools to filter Internet access on their computers;
although this move ostensibly "protects" children from "obscene"
material, many such filters systematically prevent them from accessing non-sexual material
relating to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and sexually transmitted diseases
[Ed. note: For an analysis of the effects of some popular filters, visit the GLAAD Web
site]. The state will pick up the tab for the roughly 20% of Virginia public schools not
already using filters.
The Virginia Senate by 24 - 15 gave the go-ahead to a measure to block state-supported
legal-aid attorneys from acting on behalf of poor people in a variety of matters including
legal assistance to prisoners and class-action lawsuits.
And in an unusual turnabout, Delegate John Reid (R-Henrico) has put forward a bill to
impose a mandatory minimum two days in jail on adults who assault sports officials, and it
advanced on its third try. "These people are being asked to do something
special," Reid argued. "We are putting them in a special class." Ironicly,
Republicans in particular have argued against hate crimes laws on the grounds that they
"create special classes."
[Home] [News] [Virginia]