Last edited: February 14, 2005

Georgia Supremes Strike Fornication Law

The Data Lounge, January 27, 2003

ATLANTA—Four years after declaring Georgia’s sodomy law unconstitutional, the Georgia Supreme Court bolstered that decision with a recent unanimous ruling that declared the state’s 170-year-old ban on fornication a violation of privacy guarantees.

The justices threw out charges against a 16-year-old boy, who was convicted for having sex with his girlfriend by the Fayette County Juvenile Court. The teens were found having sex by the girl’s mother, who pressed charges after the young man sneaked in to his girlfriend’s bedroom, according to court documents. Sixteen is the legal age of consent in Georgia.

"The Georgia Constitution protects from criminal sanction private, unforced, non-commercial acts of sexual intimacy between persons legally able to consent," wrote Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher on behalf of the court.

"Georgia’s seldom and selectively enforced fornication law, that once landed citizens on the chain gang, is essentially a dead letter," said Gerry Weber of the Georgia ACLU. The court based this week’s ruling on its 1998 decision in Powell v. State, when the justices threw out Georgia’s sodomy law.

While Georgia’s fornication law did not have the same symbolic value as the state’s sodomy law, the ACLU said the ruling should nevertheless be seen as a victory for the community, in that all laws regulated private sexual conduct have the potential to be unfairly applied to gay people.

Georgia, like many other states, has gone further than the U.S. Supreme Court in extending privacy related to consensual sexual activity. Ironically, it was Georgia’s sodomy law that the high court upheld in its 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, ruling that privacy guarantees do not confer "a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy."

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could give the court an opportunity to reverse itself in accepting a challenge to Texas’ sodomy statute.

That case involves police entering a private apartment on a false burglary call and arresting the owner of the apartment and his male guest for having sex in a bedroom.

The court will also soon decide whether to hear the case of Matthew Limon, a Kansas teen sentenced to 17 years in prison for having consensual sex with another teenage boy. Had Limon’s partner been a young girl, his lawyers argue, the maximum sentence would have been 18 months, a discrepancy that violates Limon’s right to equal protection.

[Home] [News] [Georgia]