Last edited: February 12, 2005

Felony Law on Sodomy Debated

Advocates Of Change In N.C. Say Statute Used Selectively

Charlotte Observer, May 12, 1999

By Stephanie Gibbs, Raleigh Bureau

RALEIGHNorth Carolina is one of 14 states that forbid sodomy between consenting adults, and it’s likely to stay that way for a long time, lawmakers say.

Proposals to repeal or soften the "crimes against nature" statute have failed since 1993. This year’s billwhich wouldn’t junk the law, but would allow sodomy between consenting adultsalso got stopped before a legislative deadline.

But that doesn’t mean the debate has ended.

During a committee hearing Tuesday, several organizations spoke for and against the proposal, even though it is dead for the rest of the two-year legislative session.

Gay-rights activists and others say the law is used to selectively prosecute homosexuals, even though it also outlaws oral and anal sex between heterosexuals. "What people do in the privacy of their homes is of absolutely no interest to the General Assembly," Sean Haugh, state chairman of the Libertarian Party, told committee members.

But Bill Brooks, head of the N.C. Family Policy Council, likened the law to seat-belt requirements. Both aim to protect people from physical harm, he said.

"The human body is not designed for homosexual acts. It’s harmful to their bodies," Brooks said.

"I think it’s the business of the government to hold up a standard and to protect people from behavior that is harmful to themselves and society. It harms society because it harms them. They are a part of society."

Sodomy is a felony in North Carolina and the penalty ranges from six months of community service to 10 months in jail. It also is illegal in South Carolina and Virginia.

Observers on both sides of the issue say the political climate in North Carolina suggests repeal is unlikely anytime soon.

"North Carolina is a very conservative state," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, who sponsored this year’s proposal. Kinnaird said residents have "burned up my e-mail," attacking her for backing the proposal.

Kinnaird’s proposal would have revamped the law so that sodomy would not be illegal between consenting adults, as long as they did it in private and weren’t paid to do it.

Sen. Brad Miller, D-Wake, who called for Tuesday’s hearing, said he did so as part of "continued discussion" of the issue. He said those pushing for repeal of the sodomy law "expect to be working for another generation."

"The work we are doing is definitely for the long haul," said M.K. Cullen, executive director of the Equality North Carolina Political Action Committee. The organization, formerly N.C. Pride Political Action Committee, supports rights for gays and lesbians.

Lawmakers in 25 other states have repealed sodomy laws, and appellate courts have struck down the laws in seven more, said Deborah Ross of the N.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Of 14 states that forbid sodomy, fiveArkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Kansasban it for homosexuals only, she said.

The law is being challenged in four states, she said, and repeal legislation is pending in a fifth. The remaining states did not ban sodomy.

In 1997, a legislative commission recommended eliminating North Carolina’s "crimes against nature" statute, which also forbids sex with animals.

In Mecklenburg County, few are prosecuted for crimes against nature, Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser said. But more than 500 a year are prosecuted for soliciting sex, a misdemeanor, he said.

He said his records did not indicate whether those cases were for soliciting prostitutes for intercourse, or for soliciting them for other forms of sex.

Menser said police in Mecklenburg County mostly use the law to clear parks and other areas where people engage in sex.

"Often, the harm is not so much what they’re doing as where they’re doing it," Menser said.

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