Virginia court strikes down law against sex by singles

AP January 15, 2005 Also see Virginia and Six Other States Still Classify Cohabitation as Illegal

The Virginia Ruling suggests sodomy law is unconstitutional as well, but leaves it alone.

RICHMOND: Supreme Court on Friday struck down an ancient and rarely enforced state law prohibiting sex between unmarried people. The unanimous ruling strongly suggests that a separate anti-sodomy law also is unconstitutional, although that statute is not directly affected. The justices based their ruling on a U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding an anti-sodomy law in Texas.

"This case directly affects only the fornication law but makes it absolutely clear how the court would rule were the sodomy law before it," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia. "It's a strong message to legislators that they must repeal Virginia's sodomy law," he said. "Now both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court have spoken on essentially the same issue."

Virginia's anti-sodomy law prohibits oral and anal sex even for married couples, but gay-rights advocates say the statute is only used to target homosexuals. Legislators for years have rejected efforts to repeal the law. They left it on the books again last year even after the Lawrence v. Texas decision held that such laws is unconstitutional. "We find no relevant distinction between the circumstances in Lawrence and the circumstances in the present case," the Virginia justices said in voiding the fornication law.

The court said, "decisions by married or unmarried persons regarding their intimate physical relationship are elements of their personal relationships that are entitled to due process protection." The ruling stemmed from a woman's lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages from a man who infected her with herpes. She claims the man did not inform her that he was infected before they had sex.

Richmond Circuit Judge Theodore J. Markow threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the woman was not entitled to damages because she had participated in an illegal act. The Supreme Court reinstated the lawsuit. "The ruling recognizes that a sin greater than fornication is not telling someone you have a sexually transmitted disease and then not practicing safe sex," said the woman's lawyer, Neil Kuchinsky "The rule now should be: If not asked, do tell."

The law against fornication had been on the books since the early 1800s but was last enforced against consenting adults in 1847, according to Paul McCourt Curley, attorney for the defendant in the lawsuit.

Curley said he sees nothing wrong with having laws on the books, even if they are not enforced, that say, "these are the ideals and morals of the state of Virginia." He said the ruling sends a message that virtually anything goes even adultery as long as sex is consensual. However, the justices noted that their ruling "does not affect the commonwealth's police powers regarding regulation of public fornication, prostitution, or other such crimes.

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