July 31, 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK, NY -- As one of the nation's largest conservative groups called for the arrest of an openly-gay Republican Congressman who is slated to speak tomorrow night at the Republican national convention in Philadelphia, the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project today said there can no longer be any doubt about the imminent danger posed by sodomy laws.

In recent days, the American Family Association began circulating an action alert, titled "Arrest Mr. Kolbe." The alert notes that Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) is scheduled to address the convention tomorrow night. It also notes that sodomy is illegal in Arizona.

"Time and time again when we file lawsuits challenging sodomy laws, conservative groups argue that these laws are not enforced and do not present any real danger -- but that they should remain on the books to send a moral message," said Michael Adams, Associate Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

"By issuing this callous alert, the right wing has demonstrated the very real danger of sodomy laws - that they can be used to try to intimidate and silence lesbian and gay Americans," Adams said. "If a Republican member of Congress is not safe from such attacks, then who is?"

The American Family Association's alert includes a sample letter, addressed to the Chairman of the Republican Party, which says in part, "... Mr. Kolbe as a self-described homosexual means nothing except to say that he engages in sodomy. Did you know that in Arizona, sodomy is against the law? Mr. Kolbe should be arrested when he returns to his home state for violating state law. Would you agree that all lawmakers should insist that all laws be enforced?"

The alert then provides an address for other members to send similar letters. The American Family Association, which is based in Mississippi, wields increasing political power. In recent years, the group's leadership has met regularly with Republican majority leadership in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

One of the starkest examples of the dangers of sodomy laws comes from the American Family Association's home state, Adams said. Mississippi courts, citing that state's sodomy law, refused to allow a 15-year-old boy to live with his gay father, even though the child's mother had married a man with a history of violence and substance abuse who repeatedly beat her in front of the boy.

Currently, 18 states and Puerto Rico have sodomy laws. The specific natures of the laws vary, as do punishments, but they all criminalize private, consensual, non-commercial oral or anal sex between adults. Five states have laws that apply only to lesbians and gay men. While the other 13 - including Arizona - apply to straight people as well, they are enforced selectively against lesbians and gay men.

The ACLU has successfully helped challenge sodomy laws in Maryland, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee and Kentucky in recent years. Last month, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit challenging Minnesota's sodomy law, and later this summer the ACLU will try to take its challenge to Puerto Rico's sodomy law to the Commonwealth's Supreme Court.



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