Last edited: February 14, 2005


Activists React to Repeal of Georgia Sodomy Law in Minnesota

It’s Expected to Spark Debate on Fairness And Privacy Issues

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 25, 1998

The Georgia Supreme Court’s overturning of the state’s sodomy law on Monday is likely to have little effect on a similar Minnesota statute, but observers said the action might encourage debate about the fairness and necessity of such legislation.

At issue in the Georgia ruling was the state’s constitutional protection of privacy. The sodomy law, the court decided, violated that privacy, saying, in essence, that what happens between two consenting adults in private should not be subject to legal action.

The law applied to gay and straight people. Activists, however, have long said that enforcement of those laws is much stricter against homosexuals and is often used to deny gay parents custody of their children or to discriminate in employment and housing.

"The logic has been, ‘OK, you break the law, so why should I hire you? You’re a criminal,"’ said Ann DeGroot, director of OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) rights advocacy group.

Minnesota is one of 13 states that still forbids sodomy (oral and anal sex) between adults, although six other states prohibit that sexual activity specifically between gays. Conviction of sodomy is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or up to $3,000 in fines. North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa repealed similar laws in the late 1970s, and Wisconsin did the same in the early 1980s.

Many Minnesotans aren’t aware that the laws still exist here or that they apply to everyone, DeGroot said.

"I talk to people all over the state, and if they know about it they think it’s just some gay thing," DeGroot said. "But it’s not a gay issue, it’s a privacy issue."

However, many national gay activists claimed Monday’s ruling as a victory, saying sodomy laws are "the linchpin in attacks" against the GLBT community. DeGroot said that, if nothing else, the ruling might spark debate that could lead to a future challenge here.

"It doesn’t impact our law at all, but it sets a tone that says these laws are no longer necessary and should be repealed," she said.

The last time activists sought to dismantle the Minnesota statute was in 1987, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, which said there was no constitutional protection for homosexual relations. The state group was called the Coalition for Privacy, a broad-based group that included the Minnesota Bar Association, the National Organization for Women as well as the state Public Health Association.

Julia Classen led the effort, which employed a full-time lobbyist and had the support of state Sen. Allan Spear and Rep. Karen Clark, DFLers from Minneapolis.

At that time, Minnesota afforded gays and lesbians no civil rights protection. The thinking within the coalition was that until the sodomy law was nullified, legislators would be unlikely to support an anti-discrimination act. Although the Human Rights Act was amended in 1993 to include gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, the sodomy repeal fell short.

Classen, a Realtor, attributed the failure to the social climate of the time: AIDS was still a major health issue, and the morality question surrounding homosexuality loomed large.

Eleven years have passed, and although the statutes are falling one by one, Classen said it could be a while before Minnesota’s law is removed from the books.

"There has been some discussion amongst the gay and lesbian community," she said, "but I don’t think anybody has decided, ‘Hey this is our issue at the moment.’"

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