Last edited: January 06, 2005

New York Kills Last Vestige of Sodomy Law, June 20, 2003

By Beth Shapiro, New York Bureau

New York City—The New York State Legislature has abolished the last references to sodomy in the state’s penal code. The legislation will now go to the governor to be signed into law.

In an agreement between the Assembly, the Senate, and Gov. Pataki, the bill eliminates the terms “sodomy” and “deviate sexual intercourse” from state law.

“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, the Executive Director of Empire Pride Agenda .

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

“It has been excruciating for a woman who has been raped to be told, read in the papers, have to 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 Co-Chair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.

Gay rights advocates said that because of the misinterpretation of 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 anti-gay baggage that term comes with,” said Matt Foreman, the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who worked for this change since the early 1990’s, as executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti Violence Project and then later the Pride Agenda.

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 term Deviate Sexual Intercourse with “Oral Sexual Conduct” or “Anal Sexual Conduct.”

Since 2000, there has been consensus between the Legislature and the Governor that this change was long overdue. In the closing days of the 2000 session, however, agreement on the exact wording to be used could not be reached and a statutory commitment to revisiting the subject was included in the Sexual Assault Reform Act passed into law that year. In 2001, the State Senate passed a bill proposed by the Governor that included this reform. Over the last three years, the issue has been repeatedly pressed by sexual assault and crime victim advocates.

“We owe our crime victim advocate allies—particularly the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and its director, Anne Liske, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and its director Harriet Lessel, and the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims and its director Susan Xenarios—a tremendous debt of gratitude for pushing this issue so forcefully,” said Van Capelle.

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