Last edited: February 14, 2005


Sodomy Law: Get Rid of Antiquated Rule

Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 30, 2001
425 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55408
Fax: 612-673-4359

A Hennepin County judge recently did what the Minnesota Legislature should have done long ago: District Judge Delila Pierce ruled that Minnesota’s sodomy law is unconstitutional because it violates the very basic right to privacy.

The judge deserves credit for reaffirming that sexual behavior is strictly between the individuals involved. What could be more private than the way two people choose to express intimacy? Minnesota Civil Liberties Union attorneys also merit praise for pursuing the case and forcing the issue. As a result of naming the state, the governor and attorney general as defendants, top Minnesota leaders must review the court’s decision.

A Minnesota law enacted more than a century ago makes oral and anal sex illegal — even when performed privately and between consenting adults. Here in our progressive, tolerant area, many forms of having sex are punishable by a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

That’s outrageous. This state has a reputation for being a national leader on privacy issues. Yet it has remained a throwback on this one, failing to come to terms with contemporary community standards. Minnesota is now one of only 15 states that still cling to some form of antisodomy statute. Half of the nation’s state legislatures have repealed the antiquated laws since 1961, fully understanding that the state has no business regulating what happens in American bedrooms.

In addition to being unconstitutional, the law should be rescinded because it has been unfairly enforced. Sodomy ordinances have been selectively used to discriminate. It is the kind of legal tool that bigots can pull out, dust off and use to harass people because of their sexual orientation or preferences.

Most often the ridiculous law has been used against gays and lesbians. During the 1970s and ‘80s, city police used it when they conducted raids on downtown gay bath houses. Other illegal activities may have occurred in those places, but sodomy laws were used to pile on charges — or as the sole violation when prostitution or lewd conduct allegations wouldn’t stick.

Heterosexuals can be victims of this law too, as plaintiffs in the lawsuit demonstrate. One is a married Minneapolis educator who could lose his license to teach if he were convicted on a sodomy charge. Another person named in the suit is a quadriplegic married man whose only forms of sexual intimacy are illegal under current law.

Unfortunately, Pierce’s ruling applies only to the eight plaintiffs in the case. Every Minnesotan deserves the same privacy protection. Now that a local court has spoken, Minnesota lawmakers should gather the gumption to repeal the state’s sodomy law once and for all.

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