Gay and lesbian residents of Maryland may be surprised to learn that while their state approved a law last year that allows them to marry, it has yet to repeal an antiquated law that classifies their intimate sexual relations as a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
LGBT activists may also be surprised that only one of the eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly confirmed to the Washington Blade that she would introduce legislation to repeal the state’s sodomy law.
“I definitely would introduce it,” said Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who is one of five out lesbians serving in the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Now that we have marriage equality, it’s time to go back to old-school anti-discrimination and make sure we are protected at work to the fullest extent and that there aren’t any laws on the books that can be used against us,” Washington said.
The other four lesbian members of the House of Delegates, their two gay male colleagues, and the out gay member of the Maryland Senate, Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) didn’t respond to written questions from the Blade asking whether they would introduce or vote for a sodomy law repeal bill.
Among those who didn’t respond are Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), who is considering running for governor, and Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who is considered a potential future candidate for the post of Speaker of the House.
Alan Brody, a spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, said Gansler’s office isn’t aware of the state’s sodomy law being enforced since the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws.
Others familiar with Maryland’s law enforcement agencies say they aren’t aware of the sodomy statute being enforced since at least 1998, when a court ruled that the statute could no longer be enforced against consenting adults, gays or straights, for private, noncommercial sex.
But Carlos Maza, the author of a 2011 report released by the LGBT advocacy organization Equality Matters, told the Blade police and prosecutors in several states have continued to enforce their sodomy laws under various circumstances, apparently ignoring or blatantly disregarding the Supreme Court or state court rulings.
In his report, “State Sodomy Laws Continue to Target LGBT Americans,” Maza says many cases involving the arrest of an adult charged with consensual sex with another adult are eventually dismissed by courts citing the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision. But the emotional stress of contending with an arrest and the expense of hiring a lawyer amounts to a penalty against LGBT people ensnared under sodomy laws even if the cases are dismissed, Maza says.
Gansler, who has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who was an outspoken supporter of the marriage equality law, are not expected to seek to enforce the sodomy laws, most LGBT activists agree.
Gansler spokesperson Brody acknowledged, however, that a future attorney general and prosecutors in counties throughout the state could seek to enforce the sodomy statute just as prosecutors have in other states.
Article 3-321 of the Maryland criminal code states, “A person who is convicted of sodomy [anal sex] is guilty of a felony and is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.”
Article 3-322 of the code states, “A person may not: take the sexual organ of another or of an animal in the person’s mouth; place the person’s sexual organ in the mouth of another or of an animal; or commit another unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.”
The article adds, “A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both.”
Carrie Evans, executive director of the statewide LGBT rights group Equality Maryland, expressed caution that problems could surface if the sodomy law is repealed without making changes in other sections of the state criminal code.
In Virginia, the director of that state’s ACLU chapter, attorney Claire Gastanaga, said Virginia’s sodomy law is sometimes used to prosecute sexual assault cases and cases involving an adult sexually abusing a minor. Gastanaga noted that under Virginia’s criminal code, a sexual assault involving oral or anal sex isn’t always covered under the state’s rape law.
She said the repeal of Virginia’s sodomy or crime against nature law would have to be accompanied by a major overhaul of the criminal code pertaining to sexual assault, something she said lawmakers have been reluctant to do.
Evans said a similar situation may exist in Maryland.
“It’s not as easy as you would think to repeal old laws,” she said. “I would support a review of the code to see what should be repealed,” Evans said, when asked if Equality Maryland would call on the state’s lawmakers to repeal the sodomy law.