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Idaho Settles Lawsuit Over Outdated, Homophobic Anti-Sodomy Law

Men entangled in sheets

Men were forced to register as sex offenders over convictions for having consensual sex.

The state of Idaho settled the case Doe v. Wasden, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that challenged the state's "Crime Against Nature" law that required several men to register as sex offenders over having consensual oral and anal sex.

In a news release announcing the settlement, the ACLU of Idaho said that the enforcement of the law "has historically been used to condemn and punish" LGBTQ+ people.

As part of the settlement, Idaho must remove the three men from the Idaho Sex Offender Registry. It also makes the state put in place a policy whereas others similarly affected by the law can also be removed.

The case began a man identified as "John Doe" filed the suit in 2020. He argued that his constitutional rights were violated after he was forced to register as a sex offender due to a conviction in another state 40 years ago for having oral sex.

A federal judge ruled last year that it was likely unconstitutional and forced the state to remove the names of two of the three men involved in the case from the registry.

"The State can have no legitimate interest in requiring [ACLU Idaho clients] Doe and Menges to register as sex offenders for engaging in private, consensual sexual acts," Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in his ruling.

Idaho then appealed the decision.

"As Judge Winmill ruled last year, our clients have demonstrated irreparable harm: the State of Idaho has ruined their lives by labeling them as 'sex offenders' for engaging in consensual sex," said Aadika Singh, ACLU of Idaho legal director, representing plaintiffs. "Where our clients live, work, and travel have been restricted; they have lost jobs and family connections. The state settled this case because they knew we would ultimately prevail after our win in federal court last year; there was no reason to drag on a losing battle that would cost taxpayers even more money defending unconstitutional laws."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas that anti-sodomy laws, including Idaho's Crimes Against Nature law, violate constitutional protections under the Fourteenth Amendment. That case was one of the cases questioned by Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade.

States such as Idaho have continued to enforce these sorts of laws by requiring people with convictions to register as sex offenders, according to the ACLU of Idaho. South Carolina settled a similar case earlier this year.

"Our clients and other Idahoans have been unfairly required under threat of incarceration to register as sex offenders and this settlement changes that," Debra Groberg of Nevin Benjamin & McKay, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys said. "While justice delayed is usually justice denied, this lawsuit prompted the repeal last year of Idaho's unconstitutional Crime Against Nature law and ensures that others in the future will not have to endure the same discriminatory punishment."

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