ACLU Challenges Georgia's Antiquated "Fornication" Law Barring Sex Outside of Marriage

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
June 25, 2002 12:00 am

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ATLANTA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today filed a legal brief with the Georgia Supreme Court on behalf of a 17-year-old youth seeking to challenge the state’s “”Fornication Statute,””dating back to 1800’s, that makes sexual intercourse between unmarried people illegal.

“”We hope this case finally gets the state of Georgia out of our bedrooms,”” said Beth Littrell, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia and author of the brief. “”Most unmarried people would be shocked if they knew that their private, consensual expressions of intimacy turned them into criminals.””

Attorneys with the ACLU took the case, J.M. v. The State of Georgia, on appeal after a trial court earlier this year convicted the 17-year-old of fornication under the controversial law. In accordance with state law governing the privacy of juveniles in the court system, “”J.M.”” is identified only by his initials in all legal documents.

At issue, according to the ACLU brief, is the statute’s infringement on the privacy rights of Georgia citizens and the criminalization of consensual sexual behavior between unmarried people but not between those who are married. The ACLU said the statute violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law under the state and federal constitutions.

The ACLU’s brief also contends that the statute violates the state and federal constitutional right to freedom of association.

“”Such freedom to associate includes intimate association, which is protected from unwarranted governmental interference,”” said Littrell, noting that in 1998, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the state’s sodomy law, ruling that the government cannot interfere with non-commercial sexual acts occurring without force between persons above the age of consent in a private setting.

In September 2001, the ACLU’s client, J.M, then 16, was visiting the home of his 16- year-old girlfriend, J.D., who at the time was on probation. The couple went to J.D.’s bedroom, closed the door and began to engage in consensual sexual intimacy. J.D.’s mother unexpectedly entered the room and found the couple undressed and engaged in sexual intercourse. The parents chose not to pursue charges against J.M.., but their daughter’s probation officer filed a complaint against him.

On March 15, 2002, after a motion to dismiss the charges failed, J.M. was convicted of fornication by the Juvenile Court of Fayette County.

The ACLU hopes that Georgia will join the more than 39 states that have repealed or overturned their fornication statutes. According to the 2000 census, nearly 150,000 people in Georgia live together as couples, either in contemplation of marriage or in lieu of it. Many thousands more engage in sexual intimacy prior to marriage, according to the ACLU lawsuit.

The ACLU legal brief in the case is online at /Privacy/Privacy.cfm?ID=10488&c=39

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