Metro Weekly

South Carolina man challenges “sex offender” status for conviction under anti-sodomy law

John Doe claims he and his partner were convicted for consensual same-sex relations under state's now-defunct "buggery" law in 2001.

gay, couple, hold hands
Photo: Jenna Jacobs / Unsplash

A South Carolina man convicted 20 years ago under the state’s now-invalid anti-sodomy law has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s requirement that he register as a sex offender.

The man, known as “John Doe” in the lawsuit, was convicted in 2001 under South Carolina’s “buggery” law for having consensual sex with another adult male. Doe claims his partner was also convicted of the offense. 

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which declared all existing state anti-sodomy statutes in the United States as unconstitutional, laws similar to South Carolina’s “buggery” law were routinely used to punish and criminalize homosexuality by imposing jail sentences or other penalties on gay and bisexual men.

But under South Carolina’s law, people convicted under the state’s anti-sodomy law prior to 2003 must register as “sex offenders.” The only other two states that impose a similar requirement are Mississippi and Idaho. But because of reciprocity laws, a person convicted of sodomy in South Carolina, Mississippi, or Idaho is still required to register as a sex offender when they move to another state.

The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, names South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel as defendants.

In the lawsuit, Doe alleges that the requirement to register as a sex offender under the now-defunct statute violates his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law, and also argues that the law, as written, is vague about which specific acts it outlaws, and could potentially be deemed unconstitutional if it outlaws all forms of anal or oral sex.

As such, he not only demands that his name be removed from the sex offender registry, but that all other people convicted under the anti-sodomy law no longer be required to register as sex offenders.

The lawsuit claims there are at least 18 other people required to register as sex offenders because they were prosecuted for breaking the anti-sodomy law.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office told The Post and Courier that Wilson would not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Keel also declined to comment.

Related: UNAIDS Ambassador: Eliminating bans on gay sex are crucial to fighting the spread of HIV

Matthew Strugar, a Los Angeles based attorney who is representing Doe, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, told The Post and Courier that his client’s sex offender status has placed enormous burdens on his life, requiring him to report to the sheriff’s office twice a year and provide detailed information about his residence, his employment status, and every online account he has, in addition to copies of his fingerprints and palm prints.

The conviction has also affected Doe’s opportunities for career advancement, Strugar claims. He was forced to file an administrative lawsuit after being denied a professional license due to his sex offender status.

Strugar has previously sued the state of Montana for requiring a man, Randall Menges, who was convicted under Idaho’s anti-sodomy law in 1994, to register as a sex offender due to its reciprocity law.

A federal judge ruled in May that Menges would no longer be required to register as a sex offender in Montana, but the Office of Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) is appealing that ruling. Menges and another man have also sued Idaho to end the registration requirement in that state. Another federal judge has since issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the requirement while the case is argued on its merits.

See also:

Federal judge rules schools must grant Gay-Straight Alliances equal access to resources

FDA approves injectable PrEP medication that’s more effective than Truvada

Air Force authorizes use of pronouns, including gender-neutral ones, in official emails

Leave a Comment:

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!