State of sodomy

It's been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a sodomy law in Texas.

In the past in Charlottesville, Virginia's felony sodomy law has been used against men who requested a certain illegal sexual act when trying to pick up hookers on West Main. It resulted in the arrests and public humiliation of 14 men at Ivy Creek Natural Area in 1998.

And in Richmond, several years earlier, a lesbian mother lost custody of her child because of Virginia's criminalization of sodomy.

This year's General Assembly didn't get around to revising Virginia's "crimes against nature" law that forbids oral and anal sex– and some sodomy cases are still being prosecuted.

So can police come knocking on your bedroom door?

"No, absolutely not," says UVA law prof Anne Coughlin. In the Lawrence v. Texas ruling, she explains, the Supreme Court said that laws prohibiting sodomy between consenting adults in private are unconstitutional.

But what about sodomy in public?

In January, 22-year-old Keia Horton was arrested in Newport News for receiving oral sex in a parked car. She was charged under Virginia's felony sodomy law, which doesn't differentiate between private and public acts.

At first, Horton was going to challenge the constitutionality of the law. But faced with the possibility of a felony conviction and its maximum two years in jail, she opted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge instead.

Joel Singson picked up the gauntlet by challenging his conviction for solicitation of sodomy in a Virginia Beach department store restroom. Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights organization, filed a petition July 12 appealing Singson's six-month sentence, arguing that he could have been prosecuted for prostitution or indecent exposure instead of sodomy.

And in May, an inmate convicted of sodomy filed an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press. Trondell Askew had three years added to his sentence for performing oral sex on another inmate in the prison yard at the Southampton Correctional Center.

Coughlin believes that police still can arrest those committing public acts of sodomy. However, "We would still want the legislature to speak to this– not individual police departments."

There's the rub for the General Assembly. HB 1054 attempted to preserve the prohibition against public sodomy, explains Delegate Rob Bell. "It passed 97-1 to rewrite the law, and then it was carried over."

"They're definitely dodging a controversial topic," says Coughlin.

"One worries the refusal to revise this law in light of the Supreme Court decision is a reflection of hostility toward gay people, particularly with the Affirmation of Marriage Act," muses Coughlin. "It's hard to say."

Perhaps 2005 will be the year Virginia gets this constitutionally challenged law off the books. Until then, the only legal "sex on the beach" will be a beverage.

At least Virginia is an equal opportunity anti-sodomy state: Both gays and straights are forbidden from partaking.