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An Idaho man who was convicted for consensual oral sex in another state over 20 years ago, well before the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in 2003, is suing the state for forcing him to register as a “sex offender” for the two-decade-old charge.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, argues that Idaho’s “crimes against nature” statute is unconstitutional, and that the state is violating the man’s rights by requiring him — and others convicted of engaging in oral or anal sex under the now-defunct anti-sodomy laws — to register as a sex offender.
Idaho’s law states that “every person who is guilty of the infamous crime against nature, committed with mankind or any animal, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not less than five years.”
Lawyers for the plaintiff, known only by the pseudonym “John Doe,” stress that they are challenging only the aspects of the “crime against nature” regarding people, and do not object to the prohibition on sex with animals.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case that anti-sodomy laws violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, on the grounds that intimate consensual sexual activity is protected from government interference, even if a certain right is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
The effect of that decision essentially nullified all state-level anti-sodomy laws. But unless the laws were explicitly repealed, law enforcement authorities can potentially abuse the underlying statute in order to punish behavior or classes of people that they dislike.
With its requirement to register as a “sex offender,” Idaho is one of four states currently abusing the now-defunct laws in such a manner, reports the Idaho Statesman.
In their complaint filed on behalf of John Doe, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho argues that having to register as a “sex offender” has created a barrier to employment and has effectively ostracized him from the community.
Doe’s legal team has asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the registration requirement while the case is heard on its merits, and has called for the removal of the “crimes against nature” law — and any other similar law in other states — from the list of criteria that require a person to register as a sex offender.
The lawsuit names Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Col. Kedrick Wills, the director of the Idaho State Police, and Leila McNeill, the bureau chief of the state police’s Bureau of Criminal Identification as defendants.
“Registration as a sex offender burdens almost every aspect of daily life. Doe suffers significant restrictions on his public and personal life through Idaho’s unconstitutional conduct,” the complaint reads. “First, he will succeed on the merits because the Supreme Court has long held that sodomy prohibitions violate the Due Process clause. Second, the constitutional injuries that Doe suffers every day through the violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights constitute irreparable harm. Third, a balance of the equities favors granting a preliminary injunction because it will not cause any harm to Defendants to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, and the public interest is served by enforcing the Supreme Court’s clear holding.”
Critics of the law, which has its roots in laws adopted during the time Idaho was still a territory, note that anti-sodomy laws have been used to target groups, specifically gay men, for criminal prosecution, most notably in the “Boys of Boise” scandal of 1955, an investigation in which law enforcement sought to out and arrest gay men who were ostensibly engaging in homosexual sex.
Fifteen men were eventually convicted on various charges, while thousands of more men were “outed” as suspected homosexuals — even if they weren’t actually gay — when they were questioned by police.
Matthew Strugar, a Los Angeles-based attorney involved in the case, issued a statement condemning the state’s continued use of the law to persecute LGBTQ individuals and others.
“More than 17 years ago, the Supreme Court declared homophobic laws like Idaho’s Crime Against Nature statute unconstitutional Idaho ignores that ruling and continues to demand people who were convicted of nothing more than having oral or anal sex to register as sex offenders,” Strugar said. “Just as the state cannot criminalize those sex acts, it cannot force people with decades-old oral sex convictions to register as sex offenders.”
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