Ohio Supreme Court Overturns Anti-Gay Soliciting Law
(CHICAGO, Wednesday, May 15, 2002) - The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s importuning (soliciting) law, which criminalizes expressions of sexual interest between people of the same sex, is unconstitutional.
In a unanimous decision, Ohio’s highest court ruled that the law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and Ohio Constitutions.
Lambda Legal submitted a friend of the court brief with the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Ohio Human Rights Bar Association, arguing that the law violated guarantees of equal protection and free speech, and needed to be taken off the books.
Under the Ohio statute, it was a first-degree misdemeanor for someone to make a sexual advance toward a person of the same sex, should that advance be found offensive. The penalty could include up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The law covered advances that involve nothing more than words, but only if the words are directed at somebody of the same sex.
“This is a stark rejection of anti-gay discrimination in criminal laws. We don’t throw men in jail for making passes at women, and there can be no double-standard for gay people doing the same thing,” said Senior Staff Attorney Heather C. Sawyer of Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office, who authored the friend of the court brief.
The case of State of Ohio v. Thompson stems from the conviction of a man who made passes at a male jogger. When the jogger asked to be left alone, Thompson complied, but the jogger then complained to the police. Thompson was charged and convicted of violating the importuning law and sentenced to six months in jail; he appealed. The State’s Eleventh District Court of Appeals found that the law violates equal protection rights, but it upheld the law and Thompson’s conviction based on a prior ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ashtabula County Public Defender Marie Lane represented Thompson at trial and on appeal.
Lambda Legal is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization, dedicated to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and people with HIV or AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda Legal has regional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and will be opening an office in Dallas in June.
Contact: Heather Sawyer, 312/663-4413 ext. 22
Pat Logue, 312/663/4413 ext 30
Jennifer Grissom, 212/809-8585 ext 231