Last edited: November 23, 2003

Chronology of Sanchez v. Puerto Rico

ACLU Lesbian And Gay Rights Project/AIDS Project

October 1997

While attempting to testify before a committee of the Puerto Rico legislature in opposition to anti-gay legislation, Rev. Margarita Sanchez is asked by legislators about her sexual orientation. She is then accused of engaging in criminal activity and threatened with arrest. [Puerto Rico’s sodomy law bans all same-sex intimacy, and certain intimacy between any adults. Sodomy is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.]

December 1997

Puerto Rico’s Assistant Justice Secretary testifies before the same legislative committee, raising the sodomy law and warning, "The law exists, and as long as it exists and the police bring us sufficient evidence to convict, we will prosecute this crime."

June 1998

The American Civil Liberties Union files a lawsuit challenging Puerto Rico’s sodomy law on behalf of Sanchez and five other lesbian and gay plaintiffs, as well as on behalf of the ACLU’s straight and gay members in Puerto Rico. The lawsuit charges that the law violates the equal protection and privacy rights guaranteed by both the Puerto Rico and United States Constitutions.

March 1999

Rejecting the government’s contention that nobody is injured by the sodomy law, a Superior Court Judge rules in favor of ACLU and orders that the challenge to Puerto Rico’s sodomy statute must go forward. The judge’s ruling finds that the existence of the law, coupled with government threats to enforce it, has a "chilling effect" on sexual expression and relationships.

November 1999

In an unrelated case of domestic violence involving a gay male couple, an appellate court rules that Puerto Rico’s law on domestic violence does not apply to lesbians and gay men, saying the sodomy law "makes homosexual conduct a crime."

May 2000

Dozens of people march through downtown San Juan, demanding the repeal of the sodomy statute. The Puerto Rico Court of Appeals dismisses the ACLU’s challenge to the sodomy law, saying no citizens can show that they are directly impacted by it.

January 2001

After initially refusing to hear the case, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court reconsiders and agrees to hear oral arguments for a still-unscheduled date later in 2001. It marks the first time that a gay rights case will be heard by Puerto Rico’s highest court in its 101-year history.

Eric Ferrero, Public Education Director
The American Civil Liberties Union
Lesbian and Gay Rights Project/AIDS Project
125 Broad St., 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004-2400
Tel: 212-549-2568; Fax: 212-549-2650

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