Last edited: February 14, 2005

Testimony of Jeff Coudriet, President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington in favor of Sodomy Law Reform

Testimony of

Jeff Coudriet

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington

before the

Council of the District of Columbia
Committee on the Judiciary

Friday, January 29, 1993

Good morning. My name is Jeff Coudriet and I am the President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. I would like to thank Chairman Nathanson and all the Members of the Committee on the Judiciary for allowing me this opportunity to testify today in support of Council Bill 10-30, which would reform the D.C. sodomy statute.

GLAA has existed for over twenty one years, making it the oldest continually active Gay and Lesbian civil rights group in the country. Too many of those years have been spent working for the reform of this law.

Most citizens of the District of Columbia, indeed, most people in this country believe that there are certain things that are no business of this or any government. In the November Presidential election, the right to "choose" in reproductive rights was soundly affirmed. On the District level, one of the most notable continuing battles with Congress has been over whether the District was going to be allowed to use its own tax dollars to provide abortions and abortion counseling to poor women in the District of Columbia. The people of this city have fought the Congress and Republican Presidents time and time again for the right to choose, because we believe that there is a realm of personal privacy that this choice exists in. We believe that adult individuals are capable of making certain choices in life without inappropriate and invasive governmental meddling.

What consenting adults may do in their own bedrooms falls squarely in that very same realm of personal privacy. One of my duties as President of GLAA is to educate people. I have encountered hundreds of gasps of disbelief from non-gay people I have met at rallies, meetings, parties, and just on the street handing out fliers, when I have told them that the District of Columbia has a law on the books which makes any form of oral or anal sex a felony, whether it is between gays or straights, married people or single people. If there is a legitimate reason for this law being on the books in 1993, I would love to hear it. Do any of the Councilmembers here today have an explanation as to why this is any of the government’s business? Not many people in this city have much faith in the city government here, and laws like this certainly don’t help the situation.

It is estimated that 93 percent of all adult Americans have engaged in one form of sodomy or another. That undoubtedly includes 93 percent of the adult residents of this city, if not more, 93 percent of Catholics, 93 percent of Jews, 93 percent of Muslims, and 93 percent Atheists and Agnostics, give or take a few percent here and there. This also means that at least 12 of the current 13 Councilmembers have also engaged in sodomy. Out of the mere handful of people here today who will testify against this bill, undoubtedly 93 percent of them probably have engaged in sodomy as well, or they’re lying.

From time to time in my work as a Gay activist, I’ve often thought to myself that one day, non-gay people are really going to have to give the Gay and Lesbian community the thanks that we deserve. The overwhelming majority of people who are considered felons under this statute are not gay. The only reason why sodomy reform is a gay issue is because this law, and laws like it around the country, are used to bash Gay and Lesbian people, even when the law applies to both Gay and non-Gay people as is the case in Washington, and it is used to keep us in our place. It is used to give a legal facade to what is nothing but clear, unadulterated anti-Gay and anti-Lesbian bigotry.

Sodomy laws are used to keep Gays and Lesbians out of the military—we can’t have a bunch of criminals there now can we, out of the teaching profession, out of raising children—sometimes our own children even, and are used by right wing nuts in Congress to fight against funding for AIDS educational materials and "obscene" works of art. When Gays and Lesbians are treated as a criminal class, which is exactly how we are treated in this city, and elsewhere, with this law still on the books—anything is justifiable in the small minds of those who will try to beat us up, fire us, kick us out of our houses, and even kill us, as was the case recently up in Adams Morgan. The sodomy statute is the green light for people who hate. It is the Alpha and the Omega of anti-Gay and -Lesbian oppression.

We, as a community, are grateful for the protection that we enjoy from our city’s Human Rights Act, which protects the civil rights of Gays and Lesbians. But the spirit of that law will not be fully realized until the sodomy statute is reformed. Gays and Lesbians will never enjoy a status equal to that of all other citizens of the District of Columbia until we are no longer considered a criminal class. This law must go. I am calling upon all the Members of the City Council to reform this law and ensure that my civil rights are protected, and are also not subjected to the whims of some kangaroo plebescite held by loud and angry bigots.

In the last few days, I have had the misfortune of witnessing first hand the bigotry that some people in this country, including some very powerful people, are capable of. As a staff member in a Congressional office on Capitol Hill, I have had to answer phone calls this week from a number of constituents who oppose President Clinton’s plans to stop the witch hunting of Gays and Lesbians in the military. The ignorance and fear that these people have demonstrated doesn’t anger me, it makes me pity them. But never once have I shied away from calmly and politely explaining to these people how and why they are wrong. If people don’t oppose bigotry on a regular basis, in their everyday lives, then I truly believe that they allow it to continue. I hope that the Council will keep this in mind.

The only bright and comforting note of this entire week has been the many fond remembrances of Justice Thurgood Marshall. It’s almost as if he picked this week, which has been filled with in-your-face hatred 24 hours a day on TV, that he chose to try his final case. Thurgood Marshall, in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, voted to overturn the Georgia state sodomy law as an unconstitutional violation of the right to privacy. This Wednesday after work I had the opportunity to go over to the Supreme Court building and see Justice Marshall lying in state. After 121ong years of Reaganism, I was heartened to see Americans there of all colors, ages, genders, and yes even Gay and Lesbian Americans.

I challenge any resident of this city who opposes this reform effort to tell me why Thurgood Marshall was mistaken in voting to overturn the Georgia state sodomy law or to explain to me why they think he was wrong in believing that freedom, and dignity, and equality were things that all Americans deserve to share in, including Gays and Lesbians. As an American, I have been led to believe that freedom and equality is my birthright. Thurgood Marshall worked to make that a reality for all Americans and I ask that this Council do the same.

Finally, there is one provision of this very short and simple bill which has caused some controversy and I would like to address that controversy. Some of the Councilmembers have been threatened and intimated into believing that this bill somehow lowers the age of consent in the District of Columbia. I am not a lawyer, but I do know that it is a fact that for all other sexual offenses under the law in D.C., the age of consent is 16, and this has been the case for at least 92 years. If the age of consent for fornication is 16, then the age of consent must also be 16 for sodomy. Considering that people can get legally married at 16, I think it would be embarrassing, ridiculous and absurd to make it against the law for married people of that age to be able to legally engage in fornication, but have to wait two years to legally engage in sodomy. Having separate ages of consent in the District of Columbia would make our city the laughingstock of the nation, and we can scarcely afford more of that right now.

To have the age of consent be 18 for sodomy would forever enshrine an unfair "separate and unequal" standard in the law and would further stigmatize the lives of Gay and Lesbian teenagers. Considering the already unacceptably high percentage of teenage suicides that are attempted by Gay and Lesbian teenagers, I personally would consider such a Council action to be a contributing factor to some of those suicides and I would lobby the Mayor to reject such an action. If it is ever the Council’s intention to raise the age of consent in D.C. to 18 across the board, which is a deluded and confused idea to begin with, then I suggest that the Council do so on its own bill, on its own time and wasting its own breath. I haven’t worked this hard, for all this time, to see "separate and unequal" become the law in the District of Columbia. I will continue to work hard, and by any means necessary, to ensure that this does not happen.

Finally, in conclusion, the District of Columbia reformed this law over a decade ago. It was Congress, in a fit of anti-Gay and -Lesbian hysteria, that overturned it. Few communities in this city have suffered the anti-Home Rule wrath of Congress quite like the Gay and Lesbian community has. I believe that we now have the opportunity to avoid Congressional interference at this time and I strongly advise the Council to act promptly and accordingly to remedy this matter once and for all.

Thank you once again Chairman Nathanson, and all the Members of the Committee.

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
1734 14th Street, N.W., 2A
Washington, D.C. 20009

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