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U.S. Conference of Mayors Takes on HIV Criminalization

By Steven Waddy, Legislative Assistant, ACLU at 9:56am

The REPEAL Act gained more influential supporters on Tuesday when the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed the bill. The REPEAL Act, sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), represents a bipartisan effort to provide incentives to states to align their criminal laws with modern science and what we now know about HIV and its transmission. The resolution boldly called for the elimination of all HIV-specific criminal laws and the implementation of approaches to HIV within the civil and criminal justice systems that are consistent with the treatment of similar health and safety risks. The resolution rightly noted that the REPEAL Act would help to further these important objectives.

While science has vastly advanced since the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the ways in which many criminal laws treat people living with HIV look like throwbacks to the dark days of the past when fear and misinformation about HIV and how it is transmitted were rampant. There are presently 32 states that have criminal laws that punish people for exposing another person to HIV, even in the absence of actual HIV transmission or even a meaningful risk that transmission could occur.

The need to modernize discriminatory HIV criminal laws is clear and compelling. These laws undermine HIV prevention efforts. For example, criminalizing exposure does not encourage people to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, and most of these states do not treat the use of a condom during sexual intercourse as evidence that the risk of HIV transmission was both mitigated and not intended. More fundamentally, these laws perpetuate stigmatization and marginalization of people living with HIV.

The ACLU strongly supports the REPEAL Act and applauds the US Conference of Mayors for this important resolution on the need to decriminalize HIV.

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