Virginia Appellate Court Upholds Sodomy Convictions
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
The ruling upheld the convictions of 10 men who did nothing more than verbally solicit
undercover police officers in a cruising area of Roanokes 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 states "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 courts 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 Roanokes 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 courts 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
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