OpEd: Sodomy Laws – An Archaic Embarrassment
By Brian Charlton
In Virginia, and other states, LGBT people are still the target of sex crimes that have been deemed unconstitutional. Add to that the history of sodomy laws, and their use as legal tools to punish and humiliate LGBT people, and you will further understand why these laws need to be addressed. And finally, I’m sick of my home state being on the headlines of comedy shows and mocked for laws that only a small portion of the population support.
Sodomy laws are an outdated concept and have been decriminalized at the Federal level. In the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence V. Texas decision, sex acts in private spaces between consenting adults was found to be legal, but states have continued to charge individuals with sodomy in cases involving sex with minors, or sex in public. Though Texas’ sodomy statute was ruled unconstitutional, marking a major legal victory on the path towards LGBT equality, local laws continue to plague the system, even if they are not enforced.
There needs to be an understanding from these states and localities that these laws directly harm the LGBT community. Some states (Texas, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma) even allow sodomy as long as you are not gay. This is an open confession to the nature of these laws– they are used to prosecute the LGBT community. Needless to say, we still have a long way to go.
These laws are innately oppressive to sexual minorities, and some state police use it to wrongfully entrap and imprison gay people. In Michigan, as recently as 2012, LGBT people were charged for public speech. Meaning they tell another person they are interested in private, unpaid sex with another adult. These charges are a result of a controversial police sting operation called “Bag-A-Fag.” The operation consisted of undercover cops act as gay men and cruise around for unpaid, consensual sex. These targeted LGBT people are at risk for spending up to 15 years in state prison for these acts that are perfectly legal in other states.
A post from Norm Kent on the Bilerico project details these stings. A complaint will be filed by a citizen if they believe sex acts are being undertaken in public areas. Cop’s, often young, athletic, and in the “disguise” of joggers clothes, will strike up conversations with older men they perceive to be gay. The conversation will start out innocent enough, then the cop will sexually charge the conversation. Kent details, “The discussion leads into ‘show me yours, and I will show you mine.’ The problem is what the cop will show you is a badge and handcuffs instead.”
Sodomy is referred to as “crimes against nature,” and under the eyes of the law, is a class 3 felony. A class 3 felony is much higher than many other criminalized sexual acts between consenting adults. Michael Hamar, a Norfolk based attorney and LGBT writer, said the archaic word was implemented into the law books to raise the penalty on gays, “The sodomy statute was used for one reason, and that’s just to get the higher penalty,” said Hamar. Years ago when gays were getting arrested for cruising in public places, cops would use the more extreme charge instead of the logical, and legal charge of solicitation.
“If you’re a prostitute, if you’re soliciting, it’s a class 1 misdemeanor,” Said Hamar. “You immediately jump to felony level with Sodomy.”
This idea fits quite nicely when compared to the “Bag-A-Fag” operations that are specifically targeting gay men, and arresting them with the foresight that they may have consensual sex with them in the near future.
The term “sodomy” is a biblical reference from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which has been used as metaphors for vice and homosexuality viewed as a deviation. I don’t agree with using an ideology from the past to prosecute a community’s current livelihood. Today violators are typically given long fines, upwards of $2500; and although these laws usually targeted gays and lesbians, some statutes were written broadly enough to cover any form of non-vaginal intercourse, including oral and anal sex between heterosexuals. A more modern look of where we are as an accepting society needs to be adopted. Love, no matter whose it is or how it is achieved, should not be at the frontline of persecution.
When Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was denied his request for a rehearing of a decision to overturn Virginia’s ban on sodomy, It was a blow. Not to him though. I believe that he believes what he’s doing is right: he has openly opposes other social issues like gay marriage and abortion. What really took the hit was Virginians. It was a blow to me, an ally and US citizen. It was a blow to you too. When Virginia is in the news headlines for sodomy laws, it is an embarrassment to our state. It grabs the attention of millions, where they judge us based on our Government, not our people. As much as I love The Daily Show and it’s host, Jon Stewart, I don’t wish to see Virginia being ridiculed on the comedy news show, or the forefront anyones’ possible negative pretensions about our state. There are only a few states left who haven’t adopted this modern view of society and love, let us not add another, Virginia.
This post original ran in Hamar’s Blog Michael in Norfolk. Click here to read more entries A column in the Richmond Times Dispatch looks at the questionable future of the Republican Party of Virginia, particularly in the wake of the 2013 Virginia statewide elections. The column looks at issues that I discussed with friends at a holiday [...]December 9, 2013
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