Last edited: December 20, 2004

Court Strikes Down Minnesota Sodomy Law

Ventura Administration May Fight State Impact

ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, May 21, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The American Civil Liberties Union today hailed a state court ruling that strikes down Minnesota’s law prohibiting oral and anal sex. The ACLU vowed to defend the ruling’s statewide impact if Governor Jesse Ventura’s administration steps in and tries to limit the ruling to the individual plaintiffs in the case.

"This is a tremendous victory — because of what sodomy laws do, but also because of what they say," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which along with the ACLU’s Minnesota state affiliate last summer filed Doe, et al. v. Jesse Ventura, et al., a lawsuit challenging 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."

State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce struck the law down in a ruling released Friday, saying that the court "declares [the sodomy statute] to be unconstitutional, as applied to private, consensual, non-commercial acts of sodomy by consenting adults, because it violates the right of privacy guaranteed by the Minnesota Constitution."

Minnesota’s sodomy law, which has been on the books since the 1800s, prohibits both oral and anal sex between any adults. Penalties include up to a year in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. In recent years, the law has been directly enforced and also has been indirectly used to deny opportunities, especially to lesbians and gay men in employment, child custody and other areas. For years, efforts to repeal the law in the state legislature were unsuccessful. Right-wing groups unsuccessfully tried to alter the law in recent years, so it would not apply to married, straight couples.

Pierce’s decision striking down the sodomy law noted that the plaintiffs in the case "represent a cross section of Minnesotans impacted by the sodomy statute." The ruling should prevent the law from being enforced or invoked anywhere in Minnesota, according to Leslie Cooper, the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project staff attorney handling the case.

But the ACLU is asking the court to technically certify the case as a class-action, which Cooper said will leave "absolutely no question" that the sodomy law cannot be enforced directly or indirectly. At the end of May, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura’s administration may file legal papers opposing this, and a hearing would be held June 7.

"It’s unfathomable that the Ventura Administration would want the court to limit this ruling," Cooper said. "The sodomy law has been declared unconstitutional — and the state has no good reason to say that it should be unconstitutional for some people, but not everyone."

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