Last edited: February 14, 2005

Senate Committee Kills Proposal to Lower Penalties

Bill to Lessen Sodomy Law Gets Quashed

Roanoke Times, 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 state’s "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 it’s an unconstitutional invasion of privacy that’s used to target gays.

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, I’m a felon," the 23-year-old said. "I’m 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 crime’s penalty.

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. "It’s a fearful vote. I learned a lot in a year, and I hope they did too. We’ve 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 state’s 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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