Arkansas Court Strikes Down Anti-Gay Sodomy Law
With 7 Arkansans, Lambda wins ruling that law violated rights to privacy, equal protection
(NEW YORK, March 23, 2001) — Ruling Friday that it is unconstitutional for Arkansas to ban consensual sex for adult same-sex couples, a court overturned the state’s anti-gay sodomy law in response to a challenge from seven lesbian and gay state residents, represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The ruling emphasized that government oversteps when it tries to dictate highly intimate, personal decisions and when it singles out one group of people for a rule not applied to others.
“This is a victory for every resident of Arkansas. It stresses that the state’s constitution shields their bedrooms from Big Brother,” said Lambda Legal Director Ruth E. Harlow, adding, “It’s a ruling that also liberates lesbians and gay men from the second-class citizenship this law imposed.”
“(I)t is consistent with this State’s Constitution to hold that an adult’s right to engage in consensual and noncommercial sexual activities in the privacy of that adult’s home is a matter of intimate personal concern which is at the heart of the right to privacy in Arkansas,” ruled Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge David B. Bogard, adding, “and this right should not be diminished or afforded less constitutional protection when the adults engaging in that private activity are of the same gender.”
Under the overturned law, Arkansas singled out same-sex couples for a criminal ban on consensual sex, including oral and anal sex, with punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. The law did not apply to non-gay couples.
Thus, the court further found, “the Sodomy Statute simply does not have equal application, it unjustifiably discriminates, and thus is unconstitutional” under the Arkansas right to equal protection.
State constitutional rights also have been critical to the elimination of invasive sodomy laws in many other states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, and Tennessee. In the 1960's, all states still criminalized oral and anal sex. Now, only three states – Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – have gay-specific sodomy laws and just 12 others still criminalize certain sex acts for both gay and non-gay consenting adults.
Lambda currently is challenging Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct Law” in a case stemming from the arrest of two men having consensual sex at home.
Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With 15 attorneys, Lambda has its headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.
Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Ruth E. Harlow 212-809-8585 x 210