Little Rock Court to Hear Arkansas Residents' Challenge to State Sodomy Ban

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Argument scheduled for Friday, May 29
May 22, 1998

(NEW YORK, May 22, 1998) -- On behalf of seven lesbian and gay Arkansas residents, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund next week will urge the Little Rock Chancery Court to reject government attorneys' efforts to have the plaintiffs' challenge to Arkansas' sodomy ban thrown out of court.

The plaintiffs contend that Arkansas' same-sex only ban is unconstitutional and severely harms lesbians and gay men in the state.

Chancellor Collins Kilgore will hear the case, Picado v. Bryant, on Friday, May 29. Several of the plaintiffs and Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg will be available to speak to reporters outside the courthouse after the argument.

Lawyers for the state Attorney General and the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney are calling for the case to be dismissed, saying that the law has not been enforced recently. The plaintiffs respond that the statute has been used, remains part of law enforcement's arsenal and, even if not enforced in criminal proceedings, classifies them as unequal to their fellow citizens, stigmatizes them as criminals, and forbids them from engaging in the same private acts with their partners that are allowed for non-gay Arkansans.

"This law creates a second-class status for lesbians and gay men, criminalizing intimate, sexual behavior that is perfectly legal for non-gay people," said Goldberg. "The Arkansas sodomy statute causes terrible harm to gay people, depriving parents of custody of their children and putting people at risk of losing their professional licenses, their jobs, and their homes, simply for sexual intimacy with a loved one," she said.

The Arkansas sodomy law makes oral and anal sex between two adults of the same sex a misdemeanor, punishable by a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000.

Lambda Managing Attorney, Ruth E. Harlow, at Lambda's New York headquarters, said, "Making behavior criminal -- in this case, important, intimate relations for gay people -- is the most damning action government can take. Lesbians and gay men do not warrant this harsh and harmful treatment."

In filing the case on January 28, Lambda and the plaintiffs contended that the law violates plaintiffs' rights to equal treatment and to privacy under the Arkansas and United States Constitutions.

Arkansas is one of six states that single out and criminalize the consensual sexual relations of only lesbian and gay couples. Lambda recently helped overturn similar same-sex bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Montana, and continues to fight to enforce the equal protection and privacy rights of lesbians and gay men nationwide. The United States Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans provides a new and powerful federal tool for attacking these discriminatory criminal laws.

WHO: Suzanne B. Goldberg, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, lead counsel for plaintiffs
Lambda Cooperating Attorney David Ivers, Mitchell, Blackstock & Barnes
Gary Sullivan, of counsel to plaintiffs

WHAT: Oral argument in Picado v. Bryant

WHEN: Friday, May 29, 9 a.m.

WHERE: Chancery Court, 2nd Division, Room 330, 401 West Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

CONTACT: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585, ext. 230/888-987-1984 (pager)

Picado v. Bryant #OT98-0432


Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585, ext. 230/888-987-1984 (pager)


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Related Issues: Criminal Justice