Virginia’s General Assembly last week approved by unanimous vote a bill that would repeal the state’s sodomy ban, a provision that historically has been used to make being gay a crime.
Lawmakers voted 100 to 0 to approve language that will decriminalize non-commercial sodomy between consenting adults in private quarters. The move essentially repeals the state’s last overtly discriminatory elements of the Virginia Crimes Against Nature statute.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case that states cannot ban private consensual sex between adults. This rendered laws like Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature statute, which even made non-vaginal sex between heterosexual married couples a felony, as unenforceable. Nevertheless, Republicans in the legislature repeatedly thwarted attempts to repeal the statute.
Things came to a head over the past few years when religious conservative posterboy Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli attempted to argue in the courts that he should be allowed to use the Crimes Against Nature law to prosecute cases. Recent convictions under the law were overturned and Cuccinelli repeatedly lost in the courts.
Legislators then issued a bill that would have explicitly stated that adults could not be prosecuted for private consensual non-commercial acts but, as reported at the time, the legislation was so poorly formulated that it had the unintended consequence of making felons out of 17 year old heterosexuals, who are allowed to marry in the state, simply for engaging in non-vaginal sex. The bill also penalized gay young people because of the bill’s reliance on vaginal intercourse as a standard of propriety.
After a huge outcry the legislation was redrafted so that it doesn’t have the issues mentioned above and is now no longer propping up the anti-gay aspects of the Crimes Against Nature statute. Now, the law will focus solely on bestiality and incest. The Senate has previously voted to pass the legislation, and so this means that Virginia’s sodomy ban should soon be repealed.
“The bottom line is that the General Assembly made great progress for treating sex as sex and applying the same criminal laws regardless of what kind of sex somebody is having,” Claire Gastanaga, director of the ACLU of Virginia, is quoted as saying. “In terms of making it clear that it’s not a criminal act for two adults to have oral or anal sex in the privacy of their own home or some other private space, it accomplishes that.”
Sodomy bans remain on the books in a number of states beside Virginia, including: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
Some state administrations will not even conscience repealing their sodomy bans, but there are efforts in states like Louisiana to do just that. Unfortunately, and despite recent examples of the statute being applied to prosecute gay men, Republican lawmakers who control the legislature have refused to allow the legislation to the floor.
Of course, Virginia’s progress could not have been accomplished while Ken Cuccinelli was still the state’s attorney general or while Bob McDonnell was still governor. Fortunately, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is now expected to sign the bill in due course, at last consigning a shameful piece of morality policing to the history books.
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