Last edited: February 14, 2005

Arkansas Sodomy Law Faces State's Highest Court

Data Lounge, May 11, 1999

LITTLE ROCK, AR. -- The Arkansas Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the state's ban against private, consensual sexual activities between lesbians and gay men, in a fight gay and lesbian civil rights advocates hope will topple another sodomy law in the American South.

Conservatives fearful of losing another Sodomy law.

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said on Friday that it will urge the Arkansas Supreme Court on May 13 to review the constitutional justification for prohibiting sex between two adults. The case is being fought on behalf of six gay and lesbian residents who hope to be instrumental in overturning the law.

"Our clients suffer from a serious and on-going threat of prosecution under the Arkansas sodomy law," said Lambda Senior Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg. "Even when no one is arrested under the law, it still brands lesbian and gay men in Arkansas as criminals, and puts us at risk of losing our jobs, homes, and custody of our children," she said. Urging the state high court to reject efforts to have the case, Bryant v. Picado, thrown out of court, Goldberg said, "Our clients are entitled to seek relief in court from the grave effects of this harmful, irrational law."

The defendants, the Arkansas Attorney General and the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney, are appealing a June 1998 decision by Chancery Court Judge Collins Kilgore denying their motion to dismiss the case. In his ruling, Judge Kilgore found that because the plaintiffs "live and suffer harms associated with continuing threats of criminal prosecution under a constitutionally suspect scheme," there were sufficient grounds to challenge the law.

The Arkansas sodomy law, which forbids oral and anal sex between two adults of the same sex, carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. Because the law does not apply to the same acts when done by different-sex couples, the plaintiffs argue that the sodomy ban treats lesbians and gay Arkansans as second-class citizens in violation of equal protection guarantees and privacy rights under the federal and state constitutions.

Lambda recently helped to overturn sodomy laws in Georgia, Montana, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and is also challenging the Texas sodomy law on behalf of two men arrested while having sex in a private apartment.

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