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Md. should repeal sodomy laws

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is right that Maryland isn't "the Southern state that [it] used to be" and has become more progressive ("Session ends in a flurry of votes," April 9). Yet, for all the progress that has been made, there remains one blemish on Maryland's progressive record that legislators should act to remove as soon as they reconvene: Maryland's sodomy laws.

Maryland is one of only 18 states in the nation with sodomy laws still on the books. Of those states, half are in the South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia).

On paper, Maryland's sodomy laws criminalize all forms of non-vaginal sex, including consensual sex between opposite-sex couples and consensual sex between same-sex couples. In reality, the state has not prosecuted consensual, noncommercial, private sexual activity, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, since the late 1990s. Still, the state has kept its archaic sodomy laws on the books, allegedly so it could use them to prosecute cases of sexual assault, prostitution, or sex in public, even though those acts are already prohibited under other state criminal laws.

Never mind that sodomy laws were effectively invalidated by the United States Supreme Court 10 years ago or that Virginia's law — which is remarkably similar to Maryland's in its breadth — was struck down by a federal appeals court just last month as being "flatly contrary to controlling Supreme Court precedent" and "facially unconstitutional."

Perhaps the most compelling reason to strike Maryland's sodomy laws from the books is that it would drive another nail in the coffin of gay, lesbian, and bisexual stigmatization in the state. As one legal commentator bluntly put it, "unenforced sodomy laws are the chief systematic way that society as a whole tells gays they are scum." Imagine the impact on the self-esteem of Maryland's lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth when they discover that, at least on paper, their state considers them to be criminals.

Sharon Grosfeld, who was a legislator in the Maryland General Assembly from 1994 to 2006, was right, too, when she argued in the late 1990s that Maryland should repeal its sodomy laws. "Our statutes and our law books are a way for people to know their rights and responsibilities," she said. "If it's not repealed, many people will think it's still good law."

Now is the time for Maryland to jettison its archaic and unconstitutional sodomy laws, once and for all. Let's give Marylanders one more reason to be proud of the Free State's progressivism and commitment to fairness, dignity and equality for all.

Marc Salans, Chevy Chase

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