GA Supreme Court Strikes Down Fornication Law

January 13, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

ATLANTA -- In a case argued by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Georgia Supreme Court today unanimously struck down the state's fornication law, saying that the government may not "reach into the bedroom of a private residence and criminalize the private, noncommercial, consensual acts of two persons legally capable of consenting" to sexual activity. 

"Georgia's seldom and selectively enforced fornication law, that once landed citizens on the chain gang, is essentially a dead letter," said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, who argued the case before the court. "The Georgia Supreme Court today reaffirmed the sanctity of our bedrooms from invasion by the eyes and arms of government." 

In so doing, the Court found that Georgia's constitutional right to privacy protects a 16-year-old who was prosecuted for engaging in sexual intercourse with his girlfriend in her bedroom. The ACLU of Georgia served as counsel for 16-year-old "J.M.," (who has remained anonymous to protect his privacy) along with local attorney Catherine Sanderson. 

"There are ample laws to protect people and children from public, forced, and commercial sex without criminalizing harmless conduct," said Beth Littrell, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. "This law was simply another intrusive attempt by the government to legislate morality. We are relieved that very personal decisions regarding sexual intimacy will remain just that - personal decisions."

Added to the Court's 1998 Powell decision overturning the state's sodomy statute, "the Court has essentially ruled that adults have the right to make private, sexual decisions without interference from the state," said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia.

Georgia law sets the age at which a person can legally consent to sexual intercourse at sixteen. Chief Justice Fletcher noted in his opinion that "the only remaining rationale for the fornication statute is to enable the State to regulate the private, sexual conduct of persons who the legislature has determined are capable of consenting to that conduct, and that is an insufficient state interest to overcome Georgia's constitutional protections of privacy."

"This decision signals how far we've come since the state convinced the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to let it prosecute lesbian and gay men for being intimate in their own homes," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Let's hope the U.S. Supreme Court follows the Georgia court's lead later this year when it decides the fate of Texas' law against same-sex intimacy."

The decision in today's case, In re: J.M., (No. SO2A1432), is available online at http://www2.state.ga.us/Courts/Supreme

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