Last edited: November 23, 2003

San Juan Prepares Review of Sodomy Law

Datalounge, February 22, 2001

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico is preparing to hear arguments challenging its anti-gay sodomy law - the first gay civil rights case of the highest court’s 101-year history.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the legal challenge to the sodomy law, will lead a variety of public forums and events with Puerto Rican gay civil rights activists which will last throughout the week.

This series of events — known in Puerto Rico as a "jornada" — caps months of political protests against the sodomy law, including group fasts and weekly protests in front of the Supreme Court building in San Juan. Public forums will focus on the effects of Puerto Rico’s sodomy law, progress in the legal challenge and additional options for repealing the law.

Attorneys from the ACLU’s New York-based Lesbian & Gay Rights Project will speak at several gatherings with leading Puerto Rican gay rights activists and local ACLU leaders.

"This is an important week in Puerto Rico’s history. For a long time, gay issues have not been publicly discussed here," said Janice Gutierrez-Lacourt of the ACLU in Puerto Rico. "However uncomfortable some people here may be with lesbians and gay men, they are even more uncomfortable with the government invading the most personal and private aspects of their lives. We believe Puerto Ricans are ready to get rid of this law, and so is our Supreme Court."

Earlier in the year, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court reversed itself and announced that it would hear the ACLU’s challenge to its sodomy law, which bars any private, consensual sexual contact between people of the same sex - as well as certain forms of intimacy between any adults. The Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case, which will mark the first time in history the court has pondered the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens.

Gutierrez-Lacourt said the sodomy law presents a "clear danger" to the civil rights of gay men and lesbians living on the island.

The lead plaintiff in the ACLU suit, the Rev. Margarita Sanchez, was threatened with arrest in 1998 while testifying against an anti-gay bill in the Puerto Rico legislature.

In a separate development the following year, an appeals court ruled that Puerto Rico’s domestic violence law does not apply to lesbians and gay men because the sodomy statute "makes homosexual conduct a crime."

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