Last edited: January 02, 2005


ACLU Targets Maryland Sodomy Law

Washington Blade, January 2, 1998

By M. Jane Taylor

The American Civil Liberties Union is poised this month to challenge Maryland's 80-year-old sodomy law, which criminalizes all same-sex sexual activity.

"In Maryland, we feel that the time is right to expose these laws," which "completely violate our rights and our privacy," said Michael Adams, staff counsel with the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. Adams is heading up the court challenge along with Dwight Sullivan of the Maryland ACLU.

Adams and Sullivan are preparing a class-action lawsuit against Maryland on behalf of Lesbian and Gay male citizens in the state.

There are two laws dealing with sodomy in Maryland. The first deals with general sodomy (defined as anal intercourse or "buggery"), and the second with "unnatural or perverted sexual practices," including oral sex.

A 1990 court ruling in the case of Schochet v. State exempted heterosexual oral sex from the law, so long as it "consensual, noncommercial," and conducted "between adults in the privacy of the home."

It is unclear whether or not the court's ruling also legalizes heterosexual anal sex, Sullivan said, but all forms of same-sex sexual activity, even consensual and private relations, remain illegal in Maryland and punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.

While Gay people are rarely arrested for consensual, private sexual relations, the Maryland sodomy laws are used against Gay people in many ways, Sullivan said. Sometimes, they are used against Gay parents in child custody and visitation cases. Often, the laws are used by police to justify undercover stings set up to arrest Gay men for inviting men to engage in sodomy. Last summer, a series of Anne Arundel County police stings at 20/20 Books resulted in the arrest of more than 40 men on charges of soliciting for sodomy ("lewdness"). The names and home addresses of those arrested, including an Annapolis elementary school principal and a Navy spokesperson, were subsequently reported in local newspapers, including the Annapolis Capital.

Internet sites such as contain so-called "entrapment" alerts from men around the country, reporting police operations at areas where Gay men are known to cruise. In Maryland, such reports have recently included the manor area in Cunningham Falls State Park; the student center at Towson University; the Interstate 95 rest area on the Delaware/Maryland border; and in and around 20/20 Books, an adult video and bookstore in Annapolis.

As a result of the arrests and the extensive publicity they received, both the principal and the Navy spokesperson were removed from their job positions and at least temporarily reassigned.

The ACLU has interviewed many others arrested under similar circumstances, some of whom have been subject to extreme ridicule in their workplace after being identified in news articles.

These are examples of "the incredible type of havoc that these laws can wreak on somebody's life," Adams said.

Eighteen states still have sodomy laws.

Although U.S. sodomy laws were carried over from old English legal code, Sullivan said that language specifically prohibiting oral sex goes beyond what was specified by British common law and thus is a distinctly American tradition.

Five states in addition to Maryland criminalize same-sex but not heterosexual sodomy. They are: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas.

According to Adams, the national climate is now good for legal challenges to these types of laws.

"I think we are seeing a change in attitudes in this country about whether or not the government should be in the business of regulating people's sex lives," Adams said.

Adams said the Romer v. Evans decision is a good legal tool to argue that "you cannot single out Gays and Lesbians and criminalize their activity."

The 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Romer v. Evans struck down Colorado's Amendment 2, which would have prohibited local governments in that state from passing laws to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He said the ACLU, in cooperation with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, is planning to challenge anti-Gay sodomy laws on a state-by-state basis. The two groups will work in consultation with each other but will litigate their cases separately.

A suit is already pending in Kansas, and the ACLU is also preparing a challenge to Puerto Rico's sodomy statute.

In Maryland, the statewide Gay civil rights organization Free State Justice Campaign, which has been pressing for sodomy reform for some time, has been advising the ACLU on this issue.

Liz Seaton, an administrative co-chair for Free State, said sodomy reform is crucial to Gay civil rights advancement.

"Maryland's sodomy statute, like similar statues across the country, is the foundation on which other discrimination is based," Seaton said.

She said "the eradication of these unfair laws would contribute enormously to equality for Gay men, Lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered people."

Adams said the ACLU expects to file the case in Maryland state court sometime in this month, probably in either Anne Arundel County or Montgomery County.

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