Court Says Arkansas Sodomy Law Challenge May Proceed
Lambda rebuffs third attempt to deny lesbians and gay men their day in court
(NEW YORK, February 11, 2000) — The Arkansas Circuit Court has ruled that the legal challenge to the state’s 1977 law forbidding certain sex acts between consenting adults of the same sex can go forward, paving the way for seven lesbian and gay Arkansans to finally have their day in court, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.
This was the third failed attempt by the Arkansas Attorney General and the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney to have the case dismissed.
Said Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn, “We are thrilled that at long last we will be able to argue the merits of this case. Lesbian and gay Arkansans continue to suffer under this discriminatory and unfair invasion of their privacy. We hope soon to put a stop to that.”
She noted, “Three Arkansas courts, including the highest in the state, have rejected these desperate attempts to keep our challenge out of court. Having this unfair law on the books preserves a second class status for lesbian and gay citizens of Arkansas.”
The Chancery Court’s decision issued Thursday bolstered the case, Bryant v. Picado, by affirming that seven Arkansans have sued the correct state officials in seeking relief from injuries caused by the defendants’ power to enforce the sodomy law against them.
Circuit Court Judge David B. Bogard, delivering the opinion of the court, wrote, “The plaintiffs seek an injunction preventing the enforcement of the Sodomy Statute. Thus, they may bring this suit against the two defendants in their official capacity.” On the federal claims, the court released the Attorney General as a defendant but retained the prosecutor as defendant.
Enacted by the Arkansas legislature in 1977, the statute makes private oral and anal sex between two consenting adults of the same sex punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and one-year jail sentence. Because the law does not apply to the same acts when done by different-sex couples, Lambda argues that the sodomy ban treats lesbians and gay Arkansans as second-class citizens.
Sixteen states have laws that criminalize certain private sexual acts between consenting adults; of these, five states, including Arkansas, have laws that single out lesbians and gay men.
Lambda has helped overturn sodomy laws in Georgia, Montana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Arkansas may well be the next state to dust off its law books and reject such an archaic law. Lambda also is challenging the Texas Homosexual Conduct Law on behalf of two men arrested and charged with having sex inside one man’s bedroom.
Lambda Cooperating Attorneys David Ivers and Emily Sneddon of Mitchell, Blackstock, Barnes, Wagoner and Ivers, and Arkansas attorney Gary Sullivan, are assisting in the case. Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS.
CONTACT: Travis Tu 212-809-8585 x 222, 888-987-1971 (pager), Beatrice Dohrn 212-809-8585, ext. 211