Last edited: January 02, 2005

ACLU Challenges Missouri Video Store Arrests

Advocate, December 18, 2002

Calling Missouri’s sodomy law unconstitutional, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion to dismiss charges against six men who were caught having sex in the back of an eastern Missouri adult video store. After a March 13 raid on the video store in High Ridge, 20 miles south of St. Louis, prosecutors charged the men under a rarely used sexual misconduct statute that bans sex between people of the same gender. A woman who also was caught having sex at the store was freed because her conduct is not illegal under Missouri law. That, to civil liberties advocates, illustrates the inequity of the sexual misconduct statute. Missouri is one of only four states—Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are the others—where same-sex sodomy is illegal. Nine other states ban sodomy for everyone.

“The facts of this case point out the fundamental unfairness here,” said Denise Lieberman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, which is representing four of the men. “All these folks were in this room, and only some of them get charged.” The ACLU and gay rights groups are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court plans to decide whether such laws are constitutional. A decision is expected on the Texas sodomy law in June. Lieberman said the key issues justices will consider in the Texas case—the rights to privacy and to equal protection under the law—match those stemming from the raid on Award Video in High Ridge.

Prosecutors have offered the Missouri men a chance to avoid going to trial by accepting a lesser charge: disturbing the peace, which carries probation and a fine. But last week the ACLU’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case. “It appears they want to fight this,” said Jefferson County prosecuting attorney Bob Wilkins. Wilkins, recently elected to his third term, said he isn’t a prude or a homophobe and that he isn’t trying to legislate morality. He said he merely is trying to stamp out “a health hazard”—open sexual activity at a public place. “I want to stop the behavior,” Wilkins said. “I don’t necessarily agree with the statute. This isn’t something we’ve invented to harass gays.”

Lieberman said the experience has been traumatic for her clients. “These are people who live in small towns where everyone knows them,” she said. “One of our clients said two big guys threatened to beat him up. One of the others has a wife, who was not there with him that night. She found out on TV.”

[Home] [News] [Missouri]