Last edited: December 06, 2004

Senate Gives OK to Law Ending State Sodomy Ban

The Newport Daily News, June 3, 1998
P.O. Box 420
Newport, RI 02840

By Joe Baker
Daily News staff

PROVIDENCE--With scant debate, the Senate Tuesday voted to end the state's 103-year-old ban on sodomy.

Already approved by the House of Representatives, the bill now goes to Gov. Lincoln Almond's desk. Lisa Pelosi, Almond's director of communications, said the governor has yet to decide if he will sign the bill into law or allow it to become law without his signature.

"The governor realizes the state laws on sodomy are outdated," Pelosi said. "He's going to receive the bill, review it and, right now, he has no intention to veto it."

Jubilant supporters embraced outside the Senate chambers following the vote.

"It's been a six-year road," said Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, who has sponsored the repeal bill for the past six years. "It's great to see it come to an end."

"I am very pleased," said Kate Monteiro, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Gays [sic] and Lesbian Civil Rights. "I'm proud to be a born and bred Rhode Islander and see the state of Rhode Island say what is personal is personal, and what is private is private. The government doesn't belong in anyone's bedroom--gay or straight, it doesn't matter."

Proponents of the repeal have argued that the law is selectively enforced and discriminates against handicapped and gay couples.

The world has changed since the state banned sodomy, which is defined as oral or anal sex, more than a century ago, said Sen. John M. Roney, D-Providence.

"It is unlikely there is a person in this room who has not, at sometime or another, broken this law," Roney said.

The Senate rejected an attempt by Sen. John A. Celona, D-North Providence, to amend the bill. Celona's amendment would have made sodomy in public places a crime.

Roney said that it is a misdemeanor under the state's disorderly conduct statute to expose one's genitals in public. Celona's amendment would make it a felony offense, with a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.

"Is a bedroom with the shade up a public place in view of others?" Roney said. "Would a husband and wife making love on what they thought was a deserted beach be subject to this act?"

The Senate defeated Celona's amendment by a 24 to 19 vote. All five Newport County senators voted against the amendment.

A sure sign that proponents had the necessary votes to repeal the sodomy ban was that only one senator spoke out against the bill after Celona's effort to amend it failed.

"There are higher laws than civil laws we pass in this chamber, namely moral laws and natural laws," said Sen. Michael J. Flynn, R-Smithfield.

The will was approved by a 26 to 17 vote. All five Newport County senators supported the repeal.

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