Last edited: January 01, 2005

RI law unconstitutional

Associated Press, April 25, 1998

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) - A Superior Court judge on Friday declared unconstitutional a law forbidding oral and anal sex, adding impetus to an effort to abolish the dusty old statute.

The 109-year-old law forbidding "abominable and detestable crimes against nature'' is unconstitutional because it singles out unmarried people for prosecution, while the courts have chosen to protect the privacy rights of married couples, Judge Frank Williams wrote.

He cited U.S. and state Supreme Court cases in his ruling, which came during the trial of two men accused of raping a woman in a Block Island bar. Edward McGovern was accused of putting his mouth on the woman's genitalia.

Williams said that justices in previous rulings have sheltered married couples from the law, which means it only can be applied to single people. It's unconstitutional for an act to be legal for some people, but illegal for others, he said.

"Unmarried adults are subject to (the law) not because of the conduct in which they engage but because'' they are single, he wrote. "Such a distinction bears no rational relationship to the purported objective of the statute.''

A spokesman for Attorney General Jeff Pine said Williams' ruling wouldn't be appealed.

Opponents of the law said they hope Williams' ruling would convince lawmakers to repeal it.

The House is to take up a bill to repeal the abominable and detestable law next week, the first time lawmakers have not killed the measure in commitee. A similar bill is being considered by the Senate.

"I think our chances are very good this year,'' said Rep. David Cicilline, D-Providence, a critic of the law.

Steven Brown, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law poses a problem for defendants in a rape trial. He said that if a defendant argues that oral sex was consensual and not forced, he is admitting guilt under the abominable and detestable law.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld the law twice in the last 15 years.

Fourteen other states have laws banning oral or anal sex, while six others have statutes forbidding the sex acts between homosexuals, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rhode Island's law carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Last year, North Smithfield police arrested two men, accusing them of consensual sex in the woods near Route 146. Pine's office refused to prosecute.

A spokesman for Gov. Lincoln Almond said the governor will wait to make a decision on the bill if it gets to his desk.

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