Last edited: February 14, 2005

Court Strikes Down Minnesota Sodomy Law

The Advocate, May 22, 2001

A Minnesota judge Friday struck down a state law that outlawed oral and anal sex, calling the law unconstitutional. "This is a tremendous victory, because of what sodomy laws do but also because of what they say," said Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, which along with the ACLU’s Minnesota state affiliate filed suit to challenge the sodomy statute. "A society’s laws are its core statement of right and wrong. Sodomy laws, because they are understood to primarily apply to lesbians and gay men, marginalize gay people and their pursuit of equal citizenship."

Minnesota’s sodomy law, which had been on the books since the 1800s, prohibited both oral and anal sex between adults. Penalties included up to a year in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. In recent years the law had been used indirectly to deny opportunities to gays and lesbians, especially in the areas of employment and child custody. Efforts to repeal the law in the state legislature had been unsuccessful. Right-wing groups tried unsuccessfully to alter the law in recent years, but only so that it would not apply to married straight couples.

State district court judge Delila F. Pierce struck down the law, saying it violated the right of privacy guaranteed by the Minnesota constitution. The plaintiffs in the case included a mix of gay and straight people. One plaintiff was a quadriplegic married man who, because of his disability, was able to engage with his wife only in forms of intimacy banned under the law. Other plaintiffs included a teacher who could have faced losing his state credential if he was found violating the law, a gay law student who could have been disbarred for violating state law, and a lesbian who could have faced eviction because her lease prohibits illegal activity.

Earlier this month Arizona governor Jane Hull signed into law a bill repealing the sodomy statute in that state. In March a state court in Arkansas found its sodomy law unconstitutional. The Puerto Rico supreme court is currently weighing the ACLU’s challenge to the Puerto Rico sodomy law. On the flip side, a Texas court of appeals last month upheld the Texas sodomy law. The decision is now being appealed. Fifteen states still have laws prohibiting oral and anal sex between consenting adults. In 1961 all 50 states had sodomy laws on the books.

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