Last edited: February 14, 2005

Virginia Sodomy Appeal Declined

The Washington Blade, June 8, 2001

By Rhonda Smith

An effort to have Virginias sodomy law struck down fell short this week when a three-member panel of the states Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of 10 men convicted in 1998 of soliciting oral sex from undercover officers in Roanokes Wasena Park.

Justices Lawrence Koontz Jr., Elizabeth Lacy, and Christian Compton issued the ruling June 1 without comment. The plaintiffs in the case, Elvis DePriest et al. v. Commonwealth of Virginia, have 14 days to decide whether to file a petition for a rehearing by the full seven-member Virginia Supreme Court.

Openly gay Roanoke lawyer Sam Garrison, who represented the plaintiffs, led the effort to have the states "Crimes Against Nature" law repealed.

"Its been an honor to have the opportunity to try to fight for the privacy rights of 4.5 million Virginians," he said, "because only a tiny fraction of acts of oral sex occur in public, yet the law makes it a felony for people to engage in oral sex anywhere."

The plaintiffs sought to challenge the law as an unconstitutional infringement on the privacy rights of all Virginians because it prohibits any act of oral or anal sex regardless of whether the participants are in public or private, male or female, married or single.

But last November, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of the 10 men and ruled that because they solicited sex in a public place they had no legal grounds to challenge the states sodomy law, which makes consensual oral sex a felony. Garrison then petitioned the state Supreme Court for a hearing.

Garrison told the Blade this week that he plans to petition for a rehearing by the full Virginia Supreme Court. And if that fails, he said, the case would be finished.

"Some day this statute is going to fall, either by a different kind of case or by action in the legislature," he said, noting that various other states have repealed their sodomy laws or courts have struck them down. "One day, one way or another, were going to have the same result in Virginia."

A total of 18 men were originally charged with soliciting sex in Wasena Park about three years ago. Four of the men took part in separate jury trials and only one was convicted. The other three men were acquitted.

Garrison represented nine other men who entered guilty pleas. The guilty plea allowed them to contest the validity of Virginias sodomy law. Garrison also represented the man whom a jury convicted.

This year in the Virginia legislature, lawmakers proposed various bills that addressed changing the state sodomy statute, but they did not vote on any of them. In 2000, the House of Delegates voted 50-49 on legislation to drop the charge for violating the sodomy law from a felony to a misdemeanor. A similar measure died before getting out of a Senate committee, however.

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