The chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland State Senate says he fully supports a bill to repeal the state’s sodomy law and predicts the committee will approve the bill this week and send it to the full Senate for final approval early next week.
Sen. William Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County) told the Washington Blade he’s hopeful that the Senate will follow the lead of the Maryland House of Delegates, which voted 133 to 5 on Feb. 20 to approve the sodomy law repeal measure.
A spokesperson for Smith’s committee was reluctant to disclose Smith’s position on the bill when contacted by the Blade last week. Smith told the Blade in a Feb. 29 phone interview that the staffer may have been overly cautious about discussing the matter.
“My position has been very public and if I’m not a sponsor I plan to put my name on it,” he told the Blade. “I’m very supportive of the bill.”
Smith said at least one member of the committee, Sen. Michael Hough (R-Carroll & Frederick Counties), has expressed strong opposition to the bill. But Smith said he has the votes needed for the committee’s approval of the measure.
Steve Smith, Hough’s chief of staff, told the Blade on Monday that Hough hasn’t publicly disclosed the reason for his opposition but said he is discussing his concerns with Smith.
“We’re working with Sen. Smith to try to fix some issues in the legislation,” he said.
Maryland is one of 16 states that have yet to repeal its sodomy law 17 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that state sodomy statutes were unconstitutional when applied to consenting adults in a private, noncommercial setting.
The Maryland law, known as the Sodomy and Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act, calls for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of sodomy, which is defined as anal sex and other sexual practices, including oral sex or sex with an animal.
Mark Procopio, executive director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Free State Justice, said although reports have surfaced that the law has been invoked as recently as last year he said it appears to have been used in cases of sexual assault or sexual abuse.
“As far as we know, it hasn’t been used in recent years to target queer people as some of these laws have been used in the past,” he said.
Procopio said he is optimistic that the full state Senate will approve the sodomy repeal bill with similar bipartisan support shown by the vote approving the bill by the House.
A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether Hogan has taken a position on the sodomy law repeal bill and whether he would sign it if it reaches his desk.
Under Maryland’s legislative procedures a bill approved by the legislature can become law without the governor’s signature as long as the governor doesn’t veto it.