Last edited: January 06, 2005

New York Deletes Sodomy from Books

Advocate, June 20, 2003

The New York State legislature has agreed on a bill that will eliminate the terms sodomy and deviant sexual intercourse from state law, according to the statewide gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda.

A three-way agreement among the assembly, senate, and governor on Thursday cleared the way for a vote in both chambers. “This agreement will mean the last vestiges of New York’s sorry history of stigmatizing homosexuality will be wiped off the books,” said Alan Van Capelle, ESPA’s executive director.

For decades, New York has categorized sexual assaults as either rape or sodomy. By definition, the crime of rape arises out of “sexual intercourse,” while the crime of sodomy arises out of “deviate sexual intercourse,” defined by statute to include both oral and anal sex. Advocates for crime victims and gay rights have long objected to this terminology.

“It has been excruciating for a woman who has been raped to...[have to] read in the papers, sign complaints, and testify on the stand that she was ‘sodomized’ or subjected to ‘deviate sexual intercourse’—these words only exacerbate the trauma of the assault and have kept some victims from pressing forward,” said Susan Xenarios, director of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victims Treatment Center and cochair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.

Gay rights advocates say that because of the common misinterpretation of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, most people associate the term sodomy with gay sex, when in fact the overwhelming majority of sodomy charges in New York involve oral sexual assaults by men against women. “No longer will any New Yorker read in the papers that a victim has been ‘sodomized,’ with all the misunderstanding and antigay baggage that term comes with,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Under the new law, the current crimes of sodomy in the first, second, and third degrees will be renamed “criminal sexual act” in the first, second, and third degrees. The punishments for these offenses remain unchanged. The new law also includes replacing the phrase “deviate sexual intercourse” with “oral sexual conduct” or “anal sexual conduct.”

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