Last edited: February 14, 2005

ACLU Challenges Virginia’s "Crimes Against Nature" Sodomy Law

American Civil Liberties Union, May 31, 2000

RICHMOND, VA—Taking a stand for constitutionally-protected privacy rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the National ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project today asked the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the state’s "crimes against nature" law.

In an amicus brief filed jointly with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the ACLU argues that the Virginia law — which, among other provisions, prohibits all oral sex regardless of the gender or marital status of the persons involved — violates the right of privacy guaranteed by the Virginia Constitution.

"It is time for Virginia to deal with this archaic law," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "Not only does it allow the government to invade the bedroom of every Virginia citizen, but it has been shamefully misused to discriminate against the gay community."

"We are hopeful that the Virginia Supreme Court will do what legislators seem to lack the willpower to do," added Willis. "There is little doubt that the vast majority of Virginia’s legislators want this law eliminated or substantially modified. But they fear taking on such a politically touchy subject, so they turn away from it year after year."

The brief asks that the Virginia Supreme Court either strike down the law as unconstitutional or rule that the law does not apply to private sexual activity between consenting adults.

The ACLU brief warns that a ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court stating that the law only applies to gay men and lesbians would conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans.

In that case, decided in 1996, the nation’s highest court ruled that a law specifically targeting gays and lesbians based on dislike or disapproval of them violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In recent years, the ACLU has successfully helped overturn sodomy laws in Maryland (1999), Georgia (1998), Montana (1997), Tennessee (1996) and Kentucky (1993).

In 1961, every state in America had a sodomy law. Today, 13 states and Puerto Rico have sodomy laws that apply to heterosexuals and homosexuals (like Virginia’s sodomy statute). Another five states have sodomy laws that apply only to homosexuals.

This spring, the ACLU asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn that state’s sodomy law. A similar challenge is underway in Puerto Rico, and next month the ACLU will file a challenge to Minnesota’s sodomy law.

The Virginia case is DePriest, et al. v. Commonwealth of Virginia.

For more information on sodomy laws, visit the ACLU’s lesbian and gay rights issue page at

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