Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Making Love Legal

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Making Love Legal

Article excerpt

After years of failure, activists are watching sodomy laws topple with increasing speed

As Republican minority leader in the Georgia state senate, Eric Johnson has worked on his share of legislation. Still, Johnson's latest effort is likely to be as effective as trying to stop the tide from corning in. "I think we ought to be able to ban gay sex," he said to the Savannah Morning News.

Johnson's outburst was prompted by a ruling by the state supreme court November 23. In a surprising decision the court overturned Georgia's infamous 165-year-old sodomy law, leaving antigay politicians in the Peach State blustering about reviving the sodomy statute through new legislation or by an amendment to the state constitution.

But Johnson and his conservative cohorts appear to be on the losing end of a sweeping, state-by-state campaign to topple sodomy laws that took on new momentum in 1998. In June the Rhode Island legislature voted to repeal that state's 102-year-old law forbidding "abominable and detestable crimes against nature." Then in October a Baltimore judge ruled that same-gender sex is not illegal in Maryland--though she stopped short of declaring that the sodomy law violated the Maryland constitution.

And sodomy laws in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas are believed to stand a good chance of crumbling under current legal challenges making their way through the courts in those three states. The Texas law is being challenged by John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner, who were arrested in September after police walked into Lawrence's Houston apartment. The officers, who were responding to a false report of a man with a gun, found the pair having sex and threw them in jail, where they spent a night before posting bail.

In the 18 states where sodomy laws remain, 13 have statutes against both same-sex and heterosexual sodomy. In the other five states--Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas--sodomy laws continue to specifically target same-sex couples. But activists and gay and lesbian legal advocates have been gleefully chipping away at the remaining vestiges of the codified criminalization of same-gender sex.

"I think we're going to see the demise of all of the remaining laws in the next few years," predicts Suzanne B. …

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