Responding to concerns about a proposed bill that would have brought back much of Virginia’s infamous “Crimes Against Nature” law and potentially made felons out of 17-year-old couples engaging in consensual oral sex, the Virginia Senate Committee for Courts of Justice unanimously adopted a substitute version on Wednesday. The revised bill would generally treat prostitution, child molestation, and other illegal sex acts the same way for oral and anal sex as for vaginal intercourse.
Last week, ThinkProgress reported that an earlier version of the bill, submitted by State Sen. Thomas A. Garrett (R), would “amend and reenact” the unconstitutional sodomy ban, attempting to use the old law’s language to continue prosecuting cases of anyone who commits “crimes against nature” in public, with minors, with animals, or for money. As a result, this bill would have allowed oral and anal sex between consenting adults (in the privacy of their own homes) — but would still have treated any oral and anal sex in those other categories differently from vaginal intercourse, thereby continuing to unfairly distinguish same-sex sexual behavior for harsher punishment. Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and a former chief deputy attorney general of Virginia, told ThinkProgress that her group opposed Garrett’s original proposal as it would still not pass constitutional muster. “If we want true reform,” she notes, “we want clarity in the law that treats sex as sex, so the rules are the same for everybody.”
While Garrett did not respond to an inquiry from ThinkProgress about the potential impact of the bill, he later told the Huffington Post, “I have heard the concerns and have started to draft an amendment to my bill that will deal with the unintended consequences of a bill that is nothing but well-intended.”
Garrett worked with the committee to amend the bill to address the concerns. He told the Washington Post that his aim was to protect children and would support clarifying its language to make clear that “sex acts are sex acts,” adding that “we need to make sure we protect children… not from each other.”
If enacted, it would end a decades-long struggle between privacy advocates and anti-LGBT groups like Virginia’s Family Foundation. The Crimes Against Nature law, which made oral and anal sex (even between consenting married couples) a felony in Virginia, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas. But the state legislature refused to update the law and as a result, federal courts ruled in 2013 that even the provisions of the law dealing with child predators were unenforceable.
The bill now will go to the Senate’s Finance committee to review its fiscal impact.