Last edited: February 14, 2005

Court Ruling Striking Down Sodomy Law Will Apply to Every Adult in Minnesota

American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, July 2, 2001
Contact: Eric Ferrero; 212-549-2568;

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — A state judge today ruled that every adult in the state is covered under a recent decision that struck down as unconstitutional Minnesota’s prohibition on oral and anal sex.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit challenging the sodomy statute, had asked State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce to technically certify her earlier ruling as a class action, so there would be no uncertainty about its impact. The state opposed this at a hearing last month.

"There can be no question now: Minnesota’s sodomy law has been struck down, and cannot be invoked anywhere in the state," said ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project staff attorney Leslie Cooper, who worked on the case with lawyers from the ACLU’s Minnesota state affiliate.

Pierce’s initial ruling, handed down in May, struck down the sodomy law as it applied to private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit on behalf of several straight and gay Minnesotans who said the sodomy statute violated the privacy rights they are guaranteed by the State Constitution.

"This law invited the state into every bedroom in Minnesota, criminalizing some of the most common forms of intimacy between adults," said Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Charles Samuelson. "It is difficult to imagine a more blatant invasion of privacy."

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a defendant in the case along with the attorney general and the state itself, agreed on the day the ruling was released. "The judge’s action is consistent with the governor’s principle that there are certain things the government should not have a role in," Ventura spokesman John Wodele told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. But just days later, the state filed legal papers seeking to limit the ruling’s impact.

"The sodomy law was declared unconstitutional — and the state had no good reason to say that it should be unconstitutional for some people, but not everyone," Samuelson said. "We’re pleased that the court agreed, and put this question to rest."

The state’s opposition was a stark reminder of the impact sodomy laws have, said the ACLU’s Cooper. "There’s a misconception that sodomy laws are just archaic legal codes that remain on the books in name only, and that there’s no strong support for keeping them around," she explained. "It’s a wake-up call that the government of Minnesota actually asked a court to say the law is unconstitutional for six or seven people, but nobody else."

The ACLU said Minnesota’s sodomy law has a direct effect on citizens, including the 1997 arrest and prosecution of a Beltrami County man who engaged in consensual oral sex with a woman. The sodomy law also was used for years to help prevent passage of a state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. That law was finally enacted in 1993.

The ruling in Doe, et al. v. Ventura, et al. came on the heels of several recent developments affecting similar laws nationwide. Earlier this year, Arizona Governor Jane Hull signed a law repealing that state’s sodomy statute. 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 that sodomy law. But a Texas Court of Appeals upheld that state’s sodomy law last month, in a decision now being appealed.

Excluding Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota, 15 states have laws prohibiting oral and anal sex between consenting adults, some of which only apply to same-sex intimacy - but all of which are used disproportionately against lesbians and gay men.

In 1961, all 50 states (as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) had sodomy laws on the books. Since then, legislatures in 26 states (including all of the states bordering on Minnesota) have repealed their sodomy laws. The ACLU has helped successfully challenge sodomy laws in Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, Georgia and Maryland, arguing that they violate state constitutions.

In addition to Cooper of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, Teresa Nelson of the Minnesota ACLU and Timothy Branson, from the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey and Whitney, are attorneys on the case challenging Minnesota’s sodomy law.

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