State Says Law Must Be Viewed in Context of Curbing Cruising
Court Hears Debate Over Challenging Sodomy Law
Roanoke Times, September 13, 2000
P. O. Box 2491, Roanoke, VA 24010
The attorney for 10 men arrested at Wasena Park said the law is a First Amendment
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
Standing before an appellate court to attack Virginias sodomy law, attorney Sam
Garrison spent most of his time Tuesday talking about standing.
That is, the question of whether his clients, 10 gay men convicted of soliciting
undercover police officers for sodomy in a Roanoke park, have the legal standing to
challenge a law that makes consensual oral sex a felony.
During a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals, arguments
from attorneys and questions from the judges focused on the issue of whether the
appellants can argue the law is an unconstitutional invasion of not just their privacy
rights, but those of all adults who engage in oral sex.
The court is being asked to strike down a law that Garrison said is "broken a
million times a night in this state."
In Virginia, oral sex between adults whether homosexual or heterosexual, in
public or in private is considered a "crime against nature" that carries
up to five years in prison.
A decision is expected by years end.
Asked by Judge Larry Elder if the state concedes it would be unconstitutional to
enforce the law against married couples who act in private, Senior Assistant Attorney
General John McLees replied that Elders question was not before the court.
Instead, he said, the court must consider the law in the context of its use: As an
effort to deter "cruising" by homosexual men who authorities said often engaged
in public sex acts in Wasena Park.
"What relationship do these homosexual cruisers have with married people acting in
private? None. None whatsoever," McLees said.
Garrison countered that the law gives his clients standing if they can show that the
sodomy law they were charged under clearly violates the First Amendment rights of others.
Garrison cited two examples:
A police lieutenant testified last year that if his officers heard two adults
discussing their intentions to have oral sex in private, police would be duty-bound to
intervene with a warning that they would be breaking the law.
A sex therapist testified that he often advises his patients to engage in the healthy
and normal practice of oral sex, although he added that a law that makes such advice
tantamount to soliciting a felony has a potentially chilling effect.
Both statements are included in the transcript of a daylong hearing that Garrison urged
the court to consider.
"The evidence in this case, which the court cannot ignore, is replete with
statements by people men, women, married, unmarried, straight, gay that they
engage in this conduct," Garrison said.
Not only do the appellants lack standing, McLees said, the issue they raise is one of
public morality that is better left to the General Assembly. Virginia and 16 other states
forbid oral sex; such laws have been either repealed or struck down by courts in the
If the states law is "to change with the changing times, it must be the
legislature to make that decision because they are the elected representatives of the
people," McLees said.
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