Montana And Tennessee Score Right-To-Privacy Victories; Kentucky Gays Battleattack On Privacy

March 01, 1996

Reflecting recent court decisions, this week NGLTF issued a revised edition of its map and fact sheet of sodomy laws across the country. Generally, sodomy laws criminalize anal or oral sex between consenting, adults even in the privacy of their homes. Tennessee and Montana gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens scored major victories in the struggle for the right to privacy. Courts in both of those states found sodomy laws to be unconstitutional.

On January 27, a Tennessee appeals court struck down the state's sodomy law on grounds that it infringed on a citizen's right to privacy under the Tennessee state constitution. Tennessee officials failed to show a "compelling" government interest to intrude on a citizen's right to privacy. Tennessee's sodomy law, the Homosexual Practices Act, specifically targets same-sex, consensual sodomy. The measure remains technically enforceable pending an appeal outcome.

In Montana on February 17, a District court found that state's sodomy law unconstitutional and granted a permanent injunction against the law. Like Tennessee, the court found the law in violation of a citizen's right to privacy under the state constitution. The victory in Montana is especially significant as it comes only 11 months after right-wing legislators used the state's sodomy law, the Deviate Sexual Conduct Statute, as justification for a "gay registration bill." The bill was defeated after massive public outcry. Montana's 10 year prison penalty or up to $50,000 fine for violation of its sodomy law is one of the highest in the nation. The state may still appeal this decision.

"The tide is turning. Use of sodomy laws to intimidate, harass and criminalize gay, lesbian and bisexual people is no longer going so easily unchecked," stated Kerry Lobel, NGLTF Deputy Director. "The Montana and Tennessee statutes were blatantly discriminatory in that they only outlawed same-sex, consensual sodomy and not heterosexual sodomy. We are gratified that at least some courts are striking down these homophobic and unfair laws," added Lobel.

Sodomy laws are often used to justify discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people. A notorious example is the Sharon Bottoms case in Virginia. Last April, the state Supreme Court cited Bottoms' status as a criminal under the state's sodomy law as one reason for its decision to grant custody of Bottoms' son to his maternal grandmother. Just this week that ruling was reaffirmed.

The Kentucky gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is currently battling amendments to two bills that would recriminalize sodomy. The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the state's sodomy law in 1992 as unconstitutional.

According to NGLTF's Right to Privacy Map of the U.S., five other states (AR, KS, MO, OK, and MD) criminalize sodomy only between persons of the same sex. Fifteen other states have enforceable sodomy laws on the books pertaining to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Twenty eight states plus the District of Columbia are "free states."

To receive an updated NGLTF sodomy map, send $2 to NGLTF/Publications; 2320 17th St. NW; Washington, D.C. 20009 (sorry, prepaid orders only).


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.