Last edited: December 08, 2004

Rhea Commissioners Rescind Anti-Gay Proposal

WBIR TV, Knoxville, TN

Commissioners in Rhea County on Thursday night reversed a vote they made two days earlier to support criminalization of sodomy, an idea one commissioner admitted was designed to keep homosexuals "out of here."

Following the Thursday vote, which took only three minutes, the commissioners hastily left the meeting in a room filled with about 300 noisy spectators.

Rhea County attorney Gary Fritts says the commission's earlier vote started a "wildfire" of reaction. The story was on the front page of Thursday's online edition of The Village Voice and was picked up by the wire services for distribution all over the country.

Rhea County commissioners unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday asking state representatives to introduce legislation that would allow the county to charge homosexuals with "crimes against nature."

There was little discussion before Tuesday's 8-0 vote in favor of the measure.

The Commission's vote came despite the fact that anti-sodomy laws were declared to be unconstitutional in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, 2003.

In the case of Lawrence & Garner v. State of Texas, the nation's highest court ruled 6-3 that sodomy laws are unconstitutional and unenforceable when applied to consenting adults in a private, non-commercial setting.

In 1989, the Tennessee Sentencing Commission decriminalized sodomy when it rewrote the state's criminal code - a change ratified and adopted by the Legislature.

On the day after the initial vote, County Commission Chairman Terry Broyles said commissioners needed a "clarification" of the motion. Broyles says he understood the motion to be about gay marriage, not about bringing criminal charges.

The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, site of the famed "Scopes Monkey Trial," is an international tourist attraction. In 1925, high school teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution and fined $100. The conviction was later overturned. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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