Last edited: November 23, 2003

Puerto Rico Case Advances

American Civil Liberties Union, March 9, 1999

Activists and the ACLU score the 1st victory in their fight to bring down the island’s sodomy law, with a judge rejecting the government’s motion to dismiss.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced that its challenge to Puerto Rico’s "crimes against nature" law is moving into the fact-finding stage, since a Superior Court judge on March 5 rejected the Secretary of Justice’s motion to dismiss the case. The law provides for a felony charge against anyone who "has sexual intercourse with people of the same sex or commits the crime against nature with a human being," with penalties of up to10 years in prison. The plaintiffs in the case are five gay and lesbian Puerto Ricans and, since the law also applies to heterosexuals, the ACLU itself on behalf of its heterosexual members.

The ACLU national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project’s associate director, Michael Adams, described the motion to dismiss as suggesting "that nobody is injured when the government brands gay men and lesbians as criminals because of their intimate relationships." But Judge Carmen Rita Velez Borras recognized that the existence of the law, combined with threats of enforcement, have a "chilling effect" on sexual expression and relationships.

Lead plaintiff Reverend Margarita Sanchez said of the ruling, "This is a wonderful day for me, my partner and for all other lesbians and gay men in Puerto Rico who have had to live under the cloud of this law. The court’s ruling is the first step toward legal recognition of the fact that our lives and our relationships deserve the same kind of respect and protection as anybody else’s."

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