Virginia eases sodomy ban but keeps it on the books
January 15 2004 1:00 AM ET
Virginia's State Crime Commission on Tuesday endorsed loosening the state's ban on sodomy, but it refused to completely remove the law from the books despite last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down similar sodomy laws across the country, The Washington Post reports.
The legislation endorsed by the commission is similar to Virginia's existing sodomy ban, but sex acts now prohibited in private would become illegal only in public. "The court has drawn a distinction between private and public sexual contact," David B. Albo, chairman of the commission and chief sponsor of the bill, told the Post. It will be considered during the general assembly session, which started Wednesday.
A violation of Virginia's public sodomy ban would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, state officials said. Other acts of public sex would be punishable as misdemeanors. Gay rights groups said Virginia's sodomy law has been used to target gays and lesbians, even though it also applies to heterosexuals. They expressed concern about the actions of the state commission, and several said that it took a step back from the Supreme Court's decision of last year.
"Obviously this is a disappointment for us," said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group. "We've been concerned that public sodomy would be a felony when other forms of public sexual activity are considered misdemeanors. This legislation is treating similar acts differently."
Albo said the commission decided against repealing the current sodomy law in Virginia because some cases filed under the statute are pending. The statute should be left on the books to undergo judicial scrutiny, he said.
Some lawmakers on the commission said that even though they would not block attempts to bring the bill before the legislature, they were concerned about whether it would be fair to all Virginians. "I'm not sure whether punishing one act more harshly than another is a direction we should go," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach).