A new Virginia bill would bring back much of Virginia’s infamous “Crimes Against Nature” law, months after federal courts struck down the law as unconstitutional. The proposal, which ostensibly would change the law to make clear that “engaging in consensual sodomy is not a crime if all persons participating are adults, are not in a public place, and are not committing, attempting to commit, conspiring to commit, aiding, or abetting any act in furtherance of prostitution,” would restore felony penalties for minors engaging in oral sex and treat public sodomy differently from other public sex acts.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling held that states may not ban private non-commercial sex between consenting adults. Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature statute, which made oral and anal sex (even between consenting married couples) a felony, was clearly the sort of legislation the Court was referencing. Efforts to amend the law to bring it into compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling were blocked by anti-LGBT legislators who preferred to keep the unconstitutional law on the books. When a prosecutor used a provision of the law to convict a 47-year-old male for asking a 17-year-old female for oral sex, the defendant successfully challenged the conviction by arguing the statute wholly unconstitutional. After a series of unsuccessful appeals by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), the law remains on the books but unusable.
Senate Bill 14, authored by State Sen. Thomas A. Garrett (R), would “amend and reenact” the law, attempting to use the old law’s language to continue prosecuting cases of anyone who commits “crimes against nature” in public, with minors, with animals, or for money. As a result, this bill would allow oral and anal sex between consenting adults (in the privacy of their own homes) — but would still treat any oral and anal sex in those categories differently from vaginal intercourse, thereby continuing to unfairly distinguish same-sex sexual behavior for harsher punishment.
Back before the courts ruled the old language unconstitutional, LGBT and civil liberties advocates backed the incremental step of amending the Crimes Against Nature law to protect consenting gay and straight adult couples from prosecution for their sexual relationships. But now that the Crimes Against Nature statute has been rendered unenforceable, this new version would represent a step backwards.