Karine Jean-Pierre
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South Carolina Man Convicted of Sodomy Sues Over Sex Offender Status

Two men kissing

A man in South Carolina who was convicted 20 years ago under the state’s anti-sodomy law has filed a lawsuit challenging the now-invalid law’s requirement that made him register as a sex offender.

The man, identified as “John Doe” in the suit, was found guilty in 2001 of having consensual sex with another adult male, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina.

He claims that his partner was also convicted, according to South Carolina newspaper The Post and Courier.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found existing state anti-sodomy laws in the country unconstitutional. Before that decision in Lawrence v. Texas, these laws were often used to persecute queer people — with “buggery” laws punishing queer men with hefty penalties and time in jail.

Those found guilty under South Carolina’s anti-sodomy law before 2003 had to register as sex offenders. While Doe’s conviction was pardoned in 2006, he remains on the sex offender registry.

“South Carolina is the last state in the country to require sex offender registration for pre-Lawrence sodomy convictions,” Allen Chaney, ACLU-SC’s legal director, said in a statement. “This practice needlessly subjects law abiding citizens to the horrors of the sex offender registry and demonstrates a deeply troubling animosity by the State towards the gay community.”

Doe’s lawsuit was filed on December 22. The suit names South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel as defendants.

In the suit, Doe alleges that the requirement forcing him to register as a sex offender violates his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

Doe says in the suit that he wants his name removed from the registry and that others who were convicted under the anti-sodomy law were not required to register anymore. The suit claims there are 18 people who have been forced to register as sex offenders under the buggery law.

“It is unconscionable that in 2021, South Carolina would still put people convicted of having gay sex on the sex offender registry,” said Matthew Strugar, a Los Angeles-based private attorney representing Doe alongside ACLU-SC. “This kind of overt, state-sanctioned homophobia would have been surprising 30 years ago. Today it is shocking. And it is unconstitutional.”

Mississippi and Idaho still require people convicted of sodomy before 2003 to register as sex offenders, Strugar told The Post and Courier. Due to reciprocity laws, someone convicted of sodomy in one of those states is still required to register as a sex offender even if they move to other states. 

Strugar told The Post and Courier that the sex offender status has negatively impacted Doe's life.

Doe has to report to the local sheriff’s office twice a year and provide detailed information about himself, including his permanent and temporary residence, his place of employment, vehicle information, fingerprints, palm prints, and every account he has used online. He was also denied a professional license, which is what led him to file the suit.

“The registration obligations, sort of, take over your life,” Strugar told the paper. 

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