Unfair law invades privacy

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 2, 2001

A county judge’s recent ruling against the embarrassingly antiquated and unfair sodomy law in Minnesota needs to be extended to cover all Minnesotans.

Monday, July 02, 2001

A county judge’s recent ruling against the embarrassingly antiquated and unfair sodomy law in Minnesota needs to be extended to cover all Minnesotans.

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Last month, Hennepin County District Judge Delila Pierce ruled that Minnesota’s sodomy law is unconstitutional because it violates residents’ basic right to privacy. She should be commended for doing something the Legislature hasn’t had the backbone to do: tell the state it has no business in people’s bedrooms.

The challenge was brought by the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union on behalf of eight people. While the ruling prohibits the state from enforcing the law, there is still a question of whether individual counties or cities could continue prosecuting sodomy cases.

To ensure they don’t, the MCLU has asked the court to give the ruling class-action status, which would extend the protection against prosecution to every resident of the state.

The state attorney general’s office argues against class-action status saying the MCLU should have to sue each county and city because they have primary jurisdiction in their communities.

If the judge decides there are legal grounds to make it a class-action ruling, the dismal chapter in state history can be closed. If there aren’t legal grounds, then the Legislature should finally do the responsible thing and formally repeal the sodomy law.

Minnesota is one of just 15 states that has bullheadedly hung onto the more than century-old sodomy law.

There is no good moral or legal argument for the Legislature to continue shirking its duty by keeping the law on the books. Government can have no justification for policing the intimate lives of consenting adults.

The sodomy laws remain on the books mostly to be used as a tool to harass gays and lesbians. But even if you don’t see that as an abhorrent, selective abuse of power, you might want to know that the sodomy law makes criminals of many more people.

The law outlaws anal and oral sex between any adult, even married couples. Indeed, one of the plaintiffs in the MCLU suit was a married teacher who noted that he could lose his teaching license for having sex with his wife; another plaintiff was a married quadriplegic man who can only have oral sexual intimacy with his wife – a crime under the sodomy law.

Hopefully the judge will find legal grounds to make the suit a class-action case because it’s doubtful state lawmakers have the will to rescind the law. The state Republican Party, in fact, is furious the court has ruled the sodomy law unconstitutional. The party’s Central Committee recently went as far as to call for a petition drive to recall Attorney General Mike Hatch, a Democrat, because they don’t believe he was vigorous enough in defending the sodomy law in court.

With such an intolerant philosophy by the party that controls the state House it’s unlikely state residents can rely on their lawmakers to protect their privacy.