April 3, 2013 at 10:35 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Cuccinelli challenges Va. sodomy ruling
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is challenging a ruling that overturned the state’s sodomy law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli has filed a petition with the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond asking the full 15-judge court to reconsider a decision by a three-judge panel last month that overturned the state’s sodomy law.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 on March 12 that a section of Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” statute that outlaws sodomy between consenting adults, gay or straight, is unconstitutional based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003 known as Lawrence v. Texas.

A clerk with the 4th Circuit appeals court said a representative of the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed the petition on Cuccinelli’s behalf on March 26. The petition requests what is known as an en banc hearing before the full 15 judges to reconsider the earlier ruling by the three-judge panel.

“We certainly hope they won’t,” said Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, which filed a friend of the court brief urging the three-judge panel to overturn the state sodomy law.

“We think it’s a situation in which everybody agrees that the statute is unconstitutional,” Gastanaga told the Blade.

Greg Nevins, an attorney with the LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which joined the ACLU in filing the friend of the court brief calling for overturning the Virginia sodomy law, said requests for en banc hearings are turned down most of the time.

He quoted a federal appeals court rule as stating, “Although petitions for rehearing are filed in a great many cases, few are granted.”

Caroline Gibson, a spokesperson for Cuccinelli, told the Blade in an email that Cuccinelli believes the dissenting judge on the three-judge panel was correct in stating the Lawrence decision applies only to sex between consenting adults in private and doesn’t apply to cases involving a minor. The case in which the three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Virginia sodomy law involved a man charged with soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old woman.

“We believe the panel decision was erroneous, and that the dissent correctly concludes that the petitioner was not entitled to federal habeas corpus relief, Gibson said, referring to the court’s decision to overturn the man’s conviction under the sodomy law. “So the full court should have the opportunity to decide this matter,” she said.

“Like most people, we think the court made the right decision,” said James Parrish, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Virginia.

“We think what needs to happen is the General Assembly needs to remove the current sodomy law that has been declared unconstitutional,” he said.

Parrish said Equality Virginia wouldn’t object to a careful revision by the legislature of the state’s criminal code to allow for continued prosecution of offenses such as sex with minors.

“What we’re saying is we agree with the court ruling that, in this case, the law was used unconstitutionally. The best course of action would be for the General Assembly to address that, just like they did with the cohabitation law that they took off the books this year,” he said.

“We think that’s a better recourse than the Attorney General filing another appeal and diverting precious state resources on an issue that the General Assembly should address because the court made the correct ruling on March 12,” Parris said.

Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who’s gay, said he is looking into the issue and the possibility of introducing legislation to address it.

“I’m reviewing this and will consider introducing a bill next year to repeal the Virginia Crimes Against Nature law for consenting adults,” he told the Blade.

The March 12 ruling of the appeals court’s three-judge panel overturned a lower court decision upholding the conviction of a 37-year-old man charged in 2005 with soliciting a 17-year-old woman to engage in oral sex. No sexual encounter took place, records show.

The Attorney General’s office argued that the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision didn’t apply to cases involving minors. But 4th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Robert King, who wrote the majority opinion, said the Lawrence decision rendered the Virginia sodomy statue “facially” or completely unconstitutional.

He stated other laws could be used to prosecute an adult for engaging in sex with a minor and that the Virginia General Assembly would likely have authority under the Lawrence decision to pass a new law specifically outlawing sodomy between an adult and a minor.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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