Last edited: February 14, 2005


It’s Time to Remove Harmful Relic Called Sodomy Law

Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 3, 2000
425 Portland Ave.
Minneapolis MN 55488

A generation ago, every state in the nation had laws against sodomy — instruments of social prejudice, relics of a time when personal morality and public policy were too much intertwined.

Nowadays they could be considered merely quaint, like vestigial traffic laws about trolleys and horse-drawn carriages, if only their continued existence caused no harm. But a law rooted in discrimination, even if unenforced, assaults the spirit of those it brands as criminal.

For that reason, half the nation’s state legislatures have repealed their laws against sodomy since 1961. Courts in another seven states have struck down such statutes as unconstitutional — including the Supreme Court in Georgia, whose attorney general had defended the law, back in the middle 1980s, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This leaves Minnesota among 18 states still holding to the antiquated notion that governments should make rules about how people make love. Because the penalties it provides are comparatively steep — a $3,000 fine and a year in prison — Minnesota’s law often gets embarrassingly prominent mention when the issue is in the national news.

It’s in the regional news these days because the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union has challenged the law on constitutional grounds, making the obvious and common-sense argument that such prohibitions are a plain affront to personal privacy. This stance is such a no-brainer that even MCLU’s critics have a tough time making an argument for keeping the law.

The Minnesota Family Council, for example, complains chiefly that the MCLU is trying for a court victory where legislative lobbying efforts have failed. Indeed, that’s exactly what the lawsuit is aiming for, and it’s the reason the MCLU deserves praise for bringing it.

The Legislature has had many chances over the years to repeal this law and has ducked them with great consistency. Politically speaking, there’s much to lose and little to gain in seeming to stand up for oral or anal sex, or challenging a law that is so rarely enforced.

But as the MCLU’s lawsuit points out, the law has been used on occasion. It remains a threat, not just theoretically, to people whose employment or leases or professional licensing depend upon a blemish-free police record. Though it applies with equal prudishness to heterosexuals and homosexuals, it also discriminates specifically against gay men and lesbians, and certain disabled people, who can’t avail themselves of legally permissible sex.

Beyond all that, this law remains an affront to anyone who believes that what a couple of consenting adults do in the privacy of their home is nobody else’s business. That’s a principle worth going to court for, and the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union should be commended for trying to do what the Legislature should have done long ago.

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