Last edited: November 23, 2003

Puerto Rico High Court to Review Sodomy Law

Data Lounge, August 11, 2000

SAN JUAN—The Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Friday opened deliberations to determine whether the commonwealth’s sodomy law violates its constitution and its declared commitment to defending the privacy of its citizens.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge to the law was dismissed by a lower court earlier this year.

"Like all sodomy laws, this statute is unconstitutional," said Michael Adams of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "While gay issues are new to this Supreme Court, we are hopeful that Puerto Rico’s long-standing cultural commitment to individual privacy will prevail."

The court has never before addressed issues relating to the fair treatment of lesbian and gay Puerto Ricans, but the ACLU’s Adams notes the court recently ruled in favor of a transgendered woman who sought to change the gender on her birth certificate.

Under the current law, any private, consensual sexual contact between people of the same sex — and anal sex between any adults — is a felony, punishable by up to $1,000 or 10 years in prison.

The ACLU repeal sought to remind justices that the Commonwealth’s Constitution goes much further than the U.S. Constitution in explicitly protecting citizens’ privacy. The lower court’s dismissal of the case relied on Bowers v. Hardwick, a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled sodomy laws were not an invasion of privacy.

"There is a myth in white communities — particularly among white gay people — that all Spanish-speaking cultures are too homophobic to treat people fairly," said Janice Gutierrez-Lacourt, Executive Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "Many people here in Puerto Rico disapprove of lesbians and gay men. But Puerto Ricans place an extraordinary value on personal privacy — which this sodomy law directly contradicts."

Gutierrez-Lacourt said the sodomy law "is a clear danger to every lesbian and gay man in Puerto Rico" and guidance from the court is needed. She pointed to a recent appellate court decision that threw out a domestic violence case involving a gay male couple because the sodomy statutes "makes homosexual conduct a crime."

Eighteen states and Puerto Rico still have sodomy laws on their books. The ACLU argument that criminalizing private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy between adults is unconstitutional has proven successful in several states, overturning sodomy laws in Maryland, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee and Kentucky.

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