The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit December 22 in South Carolina challenging the state’s Law Enforcement Division’s enforcement of an unconstitutional anti-sodomy statute.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that the government has no right to criminalize private intimate relationships between consenting adults. It was a watershed moment in the LGBTQ+ struggle – a legal proclamation that love isn’t criminal, and that gay people have the same right to “define one’s concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” that heterosexuals do.
Now in 2021 – over eighteen years later – South Carolina continues to ignore the Lawrence ruling by requiring a man convicted in 2001 to register as a sex offender for the “crime” of having consensual gay sex with another man.
According to a report in The State, the man’s attorney Matthew Strugar said his client’s sex offender status has had a profound impact on his life. He is required twice a year to report to the local sheriff’s office and provide detailed information about himself – his permanent and temporary residence, his place of employment, vehicle information, fingerprints, palm prints and every account he has used online. He had to file an administrative lawsuit after he was denied a professional license because of his sex offender status, according to Strugar.
South Carolina’s buggery law dates back to 1712. During the colonial era, anyone convicted of breaking the law was executed.
“Whoever shall commit the abominable crime of buggery, whether with mankind or with beast, shall, on conviction, be guilty of felony.”
The death sentence was removed in 1869 and replaced with a required five-year prison sentence. In 1993, the state updated the statute to read as “punishable with a maximum five-year sentence.”
According to the lawsuit, at least 18 other people in the state who were convicted prior to Lawrence are still required to register as sex offenders in South Carolina because of the antiquated “buggery law.”
“South Carolina is the last state in the country to require sex offender registration for pre-Lawrence sodomy convictions,” writes Allen Chaney, ACLU-SC’s Legal Director. “This practice needlessly subjects law abiding citizens to the horrors of the sex offender registry and demonstrates a deeply troubling animosity by the State towards the gay community.”
“It is unconscionable that in 2021, South Carolina would still put people convicted of having gay sex on the sex offender registry,” said Strugar. “This kind of overt, state-sanctioned homophobia would have been surprising 30 years ago. Today it is shocking. And it is unconstitutional.”