Last edited: February 14, 2005

Another Lambda Legal Victory—Arkansas Supreme Court Decision Strikes Down State’s Sodomy Law

Law violated Arkansans’ constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection.

News Releases, July 9, 2002

New York—The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled in Jegley v. Picado, a lawsuit brought by seven lesbian and gay Arkansas residents challenging the state’s same-sex-only sodomy law, that the law violates the state constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (Lambda Legal) was successful in urging the Court, on behalf of the plaintiffs, to void the state’s ban on intimate relations between consenting adults of the same sex.

Ruling 5-2, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a lengthy decision that emphasizes all Arkansans’ expectations of privacy in their homes. It also underscores that lesbians and gay men share the same constitutional protections as others.

Lambda Legal filed the Picado case in January 1998 and the state fought unsuccessfully to have it dismissed. Both sides filed motions for summary judgment and in March 2001, Judge David B. Bogard of the Pulaski County Circuit Court overturned the anti-gay sodomy law, ruling that the statute violated the right to privacy and equal protection under the Arkansas constitution. Judge Bogard’s ruling marks the first time an Arkansas court recognized that there is a right to privacy under the state constitution. The Office of the Attorney General of Arkansas appealed Bogard’s decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"The Arkansas Supreme Court has proclaimed that the government doesn’t belong in the bedrooms of consenting adults," stated Susan Sommer, supervising attorney for Lambda Legal, who successfully argued the case. "The Court has held that Arkansas’s lesbian and gay residents are entitled to the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors. This is a great victory for Arkansas."

In finding this law unconstitutional, the Arkansas Supreme Court, in its decision, states:

The General Assembly cannot act, under the cloak of police power or public morality, arbitrarily to invade personal liberties of the individual citizen.... [The sodomy law] does invade such liberties, arbitrarily condemning conduct between same-sex actors while permitting the exact same conduct among opposite-sex actors. [The State] has failed to demonstrate how such a distinction serves a legitimate public interest."

"The seven courageous plaintiffs in this case have demonstrated the importance of taking a stand against harmful and discriminatory laws aimed at lesbians and gay men," said David Ivers, cooperating attorney with Emily Sneddon of the Little Rock firm of Mitchell, Blackstock, Barnes, Wagoner, Ivers & Sneddon.

Only three other states—Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas—still have anti-gay consensual sex laws. Courts in many states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, and Tennessee, have struck down so-called sodomy laws. Nine states still criminalize private oral and anal sex for both gay and non-gay consenting adults.

This month, Lambda Legal is continuing to challenge the Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law" and will ask the United States Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of that law. A petition asking for review is due on July 16th. The Texas case involves two Houston men who were arrested and convicted of violating the law by having sex in the privacy of one man’s home. Texas courts have upheld the law as constitutional.

"While Arkansans have been freed of that state’s unconstitutional sodomy law, gay and lesbian Texans still carry the yoke of the Texas ‘Homosexual Conduct Law,’" stated Ruth Harlow, legal director for Lambda. "We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike that law down once and for all."

Contact: In New York: Stefanie Spina 212-229-0540

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