Last edited: February 14, 2005

Minnesota Sodomy Law Struck Down / Network, May 21, 2001

By Barbara Dozetos

SUMMARY: A judge has ruled that Minnesota’s sodomy law illegally pries into people’s private lives — even when it is not enforced.

A Minnesota court has struck down that state’s sodomy law as an unconstitutional invasion of personal privacy.

Hennepin County Judge Delila F. Pierce granted a summary judgment request from seven individual plaintiffs and the Lavender Bar Association, declaring the statute 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."

"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 Liberty Union’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which, along with the ACLU’s Minnesota state affiliate, filed Doe, et al. v. (Gov.) Jesse Ventura, et al. last summer. "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," said Coles.

In a hearing before Pierce on April 19, attorneys representing the plaintiffs argued that the existence of the law on the state’s books impacted their lives, even though none of them had actually been arrested for or charged with acts of sodomy.

A quadriplegic man identified as "John Doe" signed on as a plaintiff because he is capable of sexual intimacy with his wife only in forms criminalized by the state law.

Plaintiff Mark Roe, a married elementary school teacher, said he could lose his credentials if he were cited for breaking the sodomy law.

Another plaintiff, Kim Nyhus, a divorced gay man, joined the case because he risks losing visitation rights with his children because of his violation of the sodomy ban.

Other plaintiffs cited the possibility of being evicted from rental properties because of their criminal records.

Additionally, doctors’ and lawyers’ professional licensure could be affected. In a memorandum attached to Pierce’s judgment, the judge noted that the state application for a medical license requires applicants to swear that they have "not engaged in any of the acts prohibited by the statutes of Minnesota." A similar requirement exists in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Minnesota attorneys.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Project attorney Leslie Cooper said the attorney general might file a motion asking the judge to limit the ruling’s effect to only the plaintiffs listed in the suit. But ACLU attorneys will request that the court certify the case as a class action suit — a move that, according to Cooper, would leave "absolutely no question" that the sodomy law could not be enforced directly or indirectly against anyone in the state.

"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 from some people, but not everyone."

The Minnesota ruling comes on the heels of a similar court decision in Arkansas and the repeal of Arizona’s sodomy law by that state’s legislature. Fifteen other states have laws prohibiting oral and anal sex between consenting adults, according to the ACLU.

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