Last edited: February 14, 2005


Georgia Overturns Anti-Sodomy Law

Associated Press, November 24, 1998

By James Pilcher

ATLANTA -- Georgia politicians may try to revive the state's 156-year-old anti-sodomy law now that the state Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional.

"I think there needs to be a law of some sort on the books,'' said Lt. Gov.-elect Mark Taylor, who will preside over the Senate when the Legislature convenes in January. "I think, Republican or Democrat, it's an issue the Legislature would rather not deal with. But we don't have that option.''

In a 6-1 ruling Monday, the court said the law, which banned heterosexual and homosexual anal and oral sex, violated the state constitution's provision that citizens are entitled to privacy.

"We cannot think of any other activity that reasonable persons would rank as more private and more deserving of protection from governmental interference than consensual, private, adult sexual activity,'' Chief Justice Robert Benham wrote.

The ruling overturned the sodomy conviction of Anthony Powell, found guilty of sodomizing his 17-year-old niece in 1996. He had been charged with rape, but his lawyers argued that the sex was consensual and the jury acquitted on that charge.

Taylor, a Democrat, said the sodomy law was helpful in prosecuting sex cases in which more serious charges, such as rape, were hard to prove.

Charles Shanor, an Emory University law professor, said it gave juries an out when they did not want to convict for either rape or aggravated sodomy.

"With this law, they could penalize what they saw as wrong conduct -- such as a married man having relations with his 17-year-old niece -- and not send him away for life,'' Shanor said.

Georgia's law had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 landmark case. The divided court ruled that the U.S. Constitution provided no protection for private homosexual conduct.

Gay activists praised Monday's ruling and said the law had been disproportionately applied to homosexuals.

"I think that Georgia is preparing itself to move into the 21st century as a just state,'' said Lynn Cothren, an Atlanta gay activist. "We are moving forward. This is an issue we had been working on for a long time. There is still a lot of work to be done; it's a slow process.''

Twelve other states have laws that make consensual oral and anal sex between heterosexual or homosexual couples a crime, while six other states have anti-sodomy laws that apply only to homosexuals.

Three other states -- Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania -- have recently overturned such laws.

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