Senate Committee Kills Proposal to Lower Penalties
Bill to Lessen Sodomy Law Gets Quashed
February 24, 2000
Sen. Malfourd "Bo" Trumbo of Fincastle voted to kill the bill and Sen. John
Edwards of Roanoke voted to keep it alive.
By C.S. Murphy, The Roanoke Times
RICHMOND -- The states "crimes against nature" law
barring oral and anal sex will remain on the books for at least another year.
A bill that would have changed the state sodomy law from a felony to a misdemeanor was
killed Wednesday by the Senate Courts and Justice Committee.
The law is touted by supporters as a needed means to curb public sex acts. Critics
complain its an unconstitutional invasion of privacy thats used to target
Roanoke has been a fertile testing ground for both sides of the debate. The law is
being challenged in the Virginia Court of Appeals by several men convicted of soliciting
sodomy from undercover police posing as gays in Wasena Park.
Virginia is one of 17 states that still has such a law on the books.
Opponents got as close as they ever have to weakening the law when the bill squeaked
through the House last week in a 50-49 vote.
The bill would have made sodomy a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable with a $250 fine. It
is now punishable by up to five years in prison, and felons lose their voting rights. The
law applies to all consenting adults -- homosexual and heterosexual -- who engage in oral
sex in public or private.
Loree Erickson, a Richmond resident, sat in a wheelchair as she appealed to the
committee to pass the bill on to the full Senate.
"Under Virginia law, Im a felon," the 23-year-old said. "Im
a felon for expressing intimacy with someone I love in the only way available to me."
Erickson said the law demeans her relationships and treats the disabled as asexual.
Bill sponsor Del. Karen Darner, D-Arlington, has tried several times to repeal the law.
This round, however, she lowered her sights and tried only to change the crimes
After her defeat Wednesday, Darner said she may have settled for making sodomy a Class
1 or 2 misdemeanor, which would have given judges the option of jail time in sentencing.
She plans to continue to push the bill next year.
"We got a lot further this year than last," she said. "Its a
fearful vote. I learned a lot in a year, and I hope they did too. Weve got to do a
lot of educating."
Sen. Malfourd "Bo" Trumbo, R-Fincastle, and Sen. Roscoe Reynolds,
D-Martinsville, voted to kill the bill, and Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, voted to keep
the bill alive.
In 1998, Roanoke police arrested 18 men on felony charges for allegedly seeking
consensual sex in Smith and Wasena parks. City residents had complained that gay men
frequently used the park to search for sex partners.
Twelve men pleaded guilty, but were allowed to appeal their convictions on the grounds
that the states anti-sodomy law is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. The
Virginia Court of Appeals agreed in December to review the law.
Of the four cases that went to trial, only one defendant was convicted. He received a
60-day jail sentence. Three other men were acquitted in jury trials after arguing the law
was used to discriminate against homosexuals. Charges against two more were dropped by
prosecutors following the first two acquittals.
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