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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

Supreme Court Reviews Anti-Lesbian and Gay Law

by Rebecca Farmer, Press Secretary

Imagine being arrested, jailed and prosecuted for having consensual sex with your partner. Imagine a government that dictates what you do in your own home as legal or illegal based on who you love. Maybe this sounds a little like George Orwell's 1984, but it's a brutal reality for same-sex couples across the country. Sodomy laws outlaw sex between people of the same gender and still exist on the books in thirteen states.

Most sodomy laws have been repealed since the 1960s, but those still in effect perpetuate homophobia and offer backwards legal justification for discrimination against gay communities.

Though ten of the states with sodomy laws criminalize oral and anal sex between people of opposite as well as same sex, the bans are used primarily as a tool of discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. The states which have yet to repeal sodomy laws are: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The constitutionality of sodomy laws has come into question in a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Argued before the Court on March 26, 2003, Lawrence v. Texas challenges Texas' sodomy law, which makes it a crime for gay couples to engage in sexual acts that are legal for heterosexual couples. The case began in 1998, when Houston police responded to a false report of someone "going crazy" at the home of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. Police forced their way in and found the two have having sex in their bedroom. Lawrence and Garner were arrested, jailed overnight and charged with "deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." Lawrence and Garner filed suit, and the case has made its way to the highest court in the country.

Discriminatory effects of sodomy laws are far-reaching. If Lawrence and Garner were to move, for example, they may have to register as sex offenders, depending on local or state law. Employment can also be impacted in states with these laws. A Virginia state legislator, Robert McDonnell, has publicly opposed reappointment of a local judge to a second term, arguing that if she is a lesbian and violating the state's sodomy law, then she is not qualified to serve as a judge. If a sodomy law were not in place in Virginia, McDonnell's attempts at discrimination would be illegal, rather than state sanctioned.

In addition to the blatant homophobia and discrimination inherent in sodomy laws, one of the major concerns involves how a law can exist in which privacy laws must be violated for enforcement.

"The government has no business snooping on or legislating people's private lives," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Sodomy laws, like those in Texas and my home state of Louisiana, are violations of civil rights and civil liberties. Feminists and other LGBT rights activists are counting on the Supreme Court to overturn them."

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