Last edited: January 01, 2005

Virginia Appellate Court Upholds Sodomy Convictions

Data Lounge

Monday, November 27, 2000

ROANOKE, Va. — The Virginia Court of Appeals has ruled a law prohibiting consensual oral sex is not an unconstitutional violation of privacy, especially when the statute is invoked to enforce public decency laws, The Roanoke Times reports.

The ruling upheld the convictions of 10 men who did nothing more than verbally solicit undercover police officers in a cruising area of Roanoke’s Wasena Park.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals held that men who went looking for sex in a park have no legal standing to argue that the state’s "crimes against nature" statute violates the privacy rights of all Virginians. The law makes it a felony for any adult, regardless of sexual orientation, to have oral sex anywhere, whether in a public park or a private bedroom.

The appellate ruling turned back an effort to make Virginia the latest in a growing number of states to abolish laws against sodomy on privacy grounds.

"Whatever may be the constitutional privacy rights of one who engages in sodomy in private, those rights do not attach to one who does the same thing in public," Judge Jere M.H. Willis wrote for the court’s unanimous opinion.

Virginia is one of 17 states in which consensual oral sex is illegal. As recently as 1960, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had such laws.

The appellate ruling left unanswered a question posed by Sam Garrison, the attorney who represented the 10 accused men. What would the court do if a married couple or two consenting adults acting in private were charged under the law?

The court noted that all 18 men charged in Roanoke’s sting operation with soliciting sodomy expressed some willingness to have sex with the officer in the park, though only one was ever convicted by a jury.

Twelve men pleaded guilty and took suspended jail sentences, nine accepted an opportunity to challenge the law on appeal. Three others were acquitted by juries after arguing that they only responded to flirtatious behavior by undercover police officers. Prosecutors dropped charges in the remaining two cases in light of the jury acquittals.

Organizations such as Virginians for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union were hoping the court would strike down the anti-sodomy law They said police use the law unfairly to punish behavior by gays that would never be questioned among heterosexuals.

Given the court’s decision, many gay civil rights advocates in the state have concluded they may have a better chance in the Virginia legislature. Earlier this year, a bill that would have reduced the crime of oral sex from a felony to a misdemeanor was passed by the House of Delegates after making it out of a committee for the first time in years.

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