Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) filed an appeal last week after a federal appeals court struck down Virginia’s sodomy law as unconstitutional. Virginia prosecutors had charged a 47-year-old man with soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old girl — a felony under the disputed law. But whether or not Cuccinelli’s appeal succeeds, his vote to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling when he was a state Senator in 2004 helped create the uncertainty over the provisions.
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 sex (even between consenting married couples) a felony, was clearly the sort of legislation the Court was referencing.
A year later, a bipartisan group in the Virginia Senate backed a bill that would have fixed the state’s Crimes Against Nature law to comply with Lawrence — eliminating provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor. In 2009, he told a newspaper that he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
While the state could have brought misdemeanor charges under other statutory rape laws, the prosecution instead utilized the felony provisions of the Crimes Against Nature law. Because its provisions were never updated to comply with the constitutional privacy protections, the appeals court ruling determined that the law itself is unconstitutional. Even if Cuccinelli wins, the cost in time and money to Virginia will be huge — and could have been entirely avoided had he and the Republican majority in the Virginia General Assembly not been so determined to ignore the Supreme Court.