For decades, gay rights advocates in Maryland have lobbied the legislature to repeal laws making it illegal for consenting adults to engage in certain sex acts in private.
Despite high-profile victories in other areas — marriage equality and workplace protection laws among them — activists have struggled to get laws governing consensual sex acts removed from the state’s criminal code.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) is cautiously optimistic that 2020 could be the year that repeal efforts pay off.
He has introduced legislation that would repeal “the crimes of sodomy and unnatural or perverted sexual practice.”
Repeal advocates told the House Judiciary Committee last week that Maryland has a centuries-old history of using what Moon called “vaguely and poorly defined” laws to target out-of-favor persons, including enslaved individuals and, more recently, members of the LGBT community.
“It came to become that everything that someone didn’t like was just lumped in as sodomy,” said C.P. Hoffman, an attorney with FreeState Justice, an LGBT advocacy organization. “It’s largely been a badge of disdain by the state against queer folk, and it’s used to punish homosexuals and others.”
In 1990, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state could not punish adults for engaging in noncommercial activity as long as it took place in private between consenting heterosexuals.
Eight years later, that protection was extended to all adults, regardless of sexual orientation.
But the laws have never been stricken from the books.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark Texas case that laws prohibiting certain intimate sexual conduct between two adults of the same gender violated the Constitution.
Defenders of Maryland’s sodomy statute have argued that prosecutors need existing laws to prosecute sexual assault and bestiality cases. But Moon told the Judiciary Committee that those crimes are adequately covered by other sections of the code.
“It’s really well past time for Maryland to move forward and repeal this vestige of our past,” Hoffman said.