Last edited: November 23, 2003

ACLU v. Puerto Rico Sodomy Law

NewsPlanet, June 26, 1998

Summary: 3 couples and the ACLU are out to prove that "crime against nature" laws are in themselves crimes against free speech and other basic rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced that it filed a lawsuit in San Juan on June 22 on behalf of three gay and lesbian couples to challenge Puerto Rico's "crime against nature" law. That law prescribes penalties of up to $1,000 or 10 years in prison for anyone who "has sexual intercourse with people of the same sex or commits the crime against nature with a human being." The ACLU claims that the law violates the constitutions of both the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and of the U.S. on three grounds: equal protection before the law, privacy, and vagueness. "This case is about securing basic civil liberties," said ACLU National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project staff attorney Michael Adams. "Laws criminalizing sexual intimacy have been used in workplaces to deny lesbians and gay men jobs. They have been used to take children away from parents who are gay. In Puerto Rico, they have even been used by politicians to threaten gay citizens who speak out for their rights."

The only one of the plaintiffs to actually have been accused of violating the law is openly lesbian Christian minister and activist Margarita Sanchez De Leon, for whom the case is named. When she sought to testify before members of the legislature, she was asked if she was a lesbian, and when she responded "Yes," she was told that she could be arrested. The lawsuit charges that her free speech rights were violated in that process, and says that she and her "Jane Doe" partner fear arrest and prosecution. The other plaintiffs are Bayamon HIV health educator Jose Joaquin Mulinelli and his "John Doe" partner, a nurse; and San Juan couple University of Puerto Rico chemistry professor Edgard Danielsen Morales and federal employee William Moran Berberena.

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