Last edited: February 14, 2005

Lewinsky Case Prompts New Efforts To Repeal Laws Against Oral Sex

Critics Cite Public's Casual Response To Scandal

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1998
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By Paul Tolme
The Associated Press

Because of Americans' ho-hum attitudes about supposed sex acts between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, some critics of dusty old state bans on oral sex are hoping those laws finally will be repealed.

Fifteen states including Rhode Island have laws banning oral or anal sex outright, while six others have statutes forbidding the sex acts between homosexuals, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The laws have a variety of names: "Unnatural and Lascivious Acts," "Unnatural and Perverted Sexual Practices," and "Crimes Against Nature." The statutes rarely are enforced, and some are on hold pending court challenges.

Critics hope the fact that many Americans are unconcerned with Clinton's sex life will persuade lawmakers to erase the laws.

"Surveys show that a vast majority of us don't care what the president does as long as it is consensual," said Sen. John Roney, D-Providence, who has submitted a bill to eliminate Rhode Island's law against "Abominable and Detestable Crimes Against Nature."

"If you engage in oral sex in Rhode Island with your wife, you are subject to a felony prosecution and conviction," Roney said.

Aside from Rhode Island, states with laws banning certain sex acts between heterosexuals and homosexuals are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia, according to the ACLU. Louisiana's law has been temporarily blocked pending a trial, Alabama's doesn't apply to married couples, and courts in Michigan and Massachusetts have indicated the laws don't apply to consensual sex.

Same-sex bans are on the books in Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, the ACLU says. Court challenges are pending in Arkansas, Kansas and Maryland, while a Texas court has said the law probably would be declared unconstitutional if challenged. Penalties for violating the statutes range from a $200 fine in Texas to 5 years to life in Idaho. Rhode Island's law carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

"These laws are an outdated holdover from a time when people believed it was the role of government to control sex lives," said Michael Adams, legal counsel for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "The attitude of people in the Clinton case is: What consenting adults do in private is of no concern to anyone else."

A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says the Constitution allows states to criminalize sex acts.

"We're confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse that decision," said Adams.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld the law twice in the last 15 years, said Steve Brown, director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

"If you have a shaky rape case, you trail it with a sodomy charge," Brown said. "If the defendant gets on the stand and says it was consensual, he's just set himself down for a felony."

Rhode Island's law was invoked by North Smithfield police last year against two men accused of consensual sex in the woods near Route 146. The men were arrested, but Attorney General Jeff Pine's office refused to prosecute.

Pine opposes repealing the law outright because he says it could help prosecute a case where rape is difficult to prove but where there clearly is a victim. He says he would support exempting consenting adults from the law.

Arnie Owens, spokesman for the Christian Coalition in Virginia Beach, Va., said his organization has no formal position on the laws, but, "Our supporters would oppose efforts to repeal them."

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