Last edited: February 14, 2005

Repeal of State’s Sodomy Law Doubtful

Fayetteville Observer Times, May 12, 1999
P. O. Box 849, Fayetteville, NC 28302
Fax 910-486-3545

By Kim Nilsen, Raleigh Bureau

RALEIGH -- Proponents of a move to repeal the state’s law against sodomy say the bill doesn’t have the support needed to pass this year.

But advocates pushed for a Senate committee hearing on the bill anyway to draw attention to the current law, which criminalizes certain sex acts by married couples and consenting adults.

"The point is the government has no business in our bedrooms," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, the bill sponsor. Kinnaird called the debate one of the major civil rights issues of the 1990s.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech, a Methodist minister forced from his Nebraska church for performing a same-sex marriage, compared the provisions with Jim Crow laws used to legalize segregation in the South.

North Carolina is one of 13 states with an anti-sodomy law covering both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Similar laws have been repealed in a number of states. Courts have struck down restrictions in other states, including Georgia and Tennessee.

Supporters of the existing law say it dates back more than 200 years and has stood the test of time and court reviews.

Kinnaird’s bill would decriminalize oral and anal sex that takes place in private between consenting adults and doesn’t involve prostitution. Such "crimes against nature" offenses are felonies in North Carolina, punishable by a minimum of four to six months of community punishment.

"North Carolina needs to move into the 20th century," said Deborah Ross, state director for the American Civil Liberties Union. But last month, House lawmakers rejected a move to add protection for homosexuals to the state’s hate crime law. Judging from that defeat, the sodomy bill stands little chance, said Sen. Brad Miller, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee that discussed the bill on Tuesday. The committee took no action.

Gay rights advocates say the law is used as a basis to discriminate against homosexuals in the workplace and in child custody cases. "The law should protect people," Creech said. The potential of prosecution forces homosexuals to remain silent. Creech asked lawmakers to repeal or refine the law. "It will help make a law that has been designed to harm people less harmful," he said.

Advocates working to strike down the law argue that many married couples and heterosexual adults are themselves offenders. Although few are charged with the crime, the potential for prosecution is there. "This has got to be one of the silliest laws on the books in North Carolina," said John Boddie, a lawyer from Greensboro who has defended clients in crimes against nature cases. Laws against prostitution, rape and lewd conduct could address much of the behavior people oppose, he said.

The bill was subject to a deadline last month for progress on non-money legislation. Because it failed to pass out of the Senate on time, the bill is effectively dead for the remainder of the two-year legislative cycle. It could go to a study commission for more work, Miller said. But supporters say they don’t expect change to come quickly.

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