Senate Panel Kills Cutting Penalties For Sex-Law Violations
February 24, 2000
By Jennifer Peter, The Virginian-Pilot
RICHMONDVirginians who engage in certain sexual activities will
remain at risk of going to jail and losing their voting rights after a Senate panels
refusal Wednesday to change the states "crimes against nature" law.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 9-5 to defeat the changes, which made it
through the House of Delegates this year for the first time in history.
The 200-year-old law makes it a felony for consenting adultseven married
couplesto engage in oral sex or sodomy. Several other states have repealed similar
Del. L. Karen Darner, D-Arlington, has proposed repealing the law for eight years,
arguing that the state cannot police citizens bedrooms and that the law fails to
reflect the reality of modern life in Virginia.
This year, under a new Republican majority, Darner changed her tactic. She proposed
instead to reduce the crime to a class 4 misdemeanorlowering the maximum fine from
$2,500 to $250, eliminating the possibility of a jail sentence, and allowing those
convicted to retain their voting rights.
This was enough to win the support of the House Courts of Justice Committee, which
previously had defeated the bill with a few smirks and no debate every year. The full
House approved the bill 50-49 last week.
The bills demise marks the Senates first response to a package of
controversial measures sponsored by Democrats that were approved by the
Republican-controlled House earlier this month.
The Senate has yet to render a verdict on a proposal to extend from three weeks to
three years the amount of time death-row inmates have to present new evidence of their
innocence to the courts. Also pending are proposals to make it easier for ex-felons to
regain their voting rights.
Speaking in favor of changing the "crimes against nature" bill
Wednesdayand also at previous hearingswas 23-year-old Loree Erickson of
Richmond, who has used a wheelchair since she was 5. Because of her disability, she told
the committee, the only way she can experience intimacy is through committing a felony.
"Its now considered a felony for me to express intimacy with the person I
love the only way I can," Erickson told the committee. After the vote, she added:
"I think its ridiculous to criminalize the way someone expresses intimacy with
The crime is rarely prosecuted, but opponents argue that the law has been used to
selectively target gay men or to cast doubt on a womans fitness to retain custody of
Speaking against the bill was The Family Foundation and the Virginia Assembly of
"This is a time for strengthening the moral fiber of the commonwealth," said
Jack Knapp, executive director of the Baptist group. "Reducing the penalty wont
The local members of the committeeRepublican Sens. J. Randy Forbes and Frederick
M. Quayle of Chesapeake; D. Nick Rerras of Norfolk; and Kenneth W. Stolle of Virginia
Beachopposed the changes.
Darner pledged to try again next year.
[Home] [News] [Virginia]