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The Daily Tar Heel

Symposium Examines Changing Sex Laws

The law states, "If any person shall commit the crime against nature, with mankind or beast, he shall be punished as a Class I felon."

In practice, the statute makes all oral and anal sex a felony between nonmarried partners, whether gay or straight. Violations carry a possible one-year prison sentence.

North Carolina is among 13 states that have laws restricting private sexual activity, even among straight people. Five additional states have laws that target only homosexuals.

The attendees, which included attorneys, lobbyists, students and a superior court judge, met to exchange ideas on how North Carolina's crimes-against-nature law might most effectively be overturned, either through legal challenge or repeal in the General Assembly.

Participants agreed that a good deal of public relations work must be done to inform unmarried voters that the statute exists and applies to them.

While North Carolina's crimes-against-nature law makes no distinction between gay and heterosexual offenses, Steve Scarborough, a staff attorney with the pro-gay rights Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the law was applied in a discriminatory manner.

"This statute is about keeping (gay people) in our place," he said.

The N.C. crimes-against-nature law has been cited in denying child custody, employment, state licensing and housing to gay people.

In 1998, the N.C. Supreme Court revoked a gay father's custody award because the father admitted to a crimes-against-nature law violation, even though the mother admitted to a heterosexual violation.

"A lot of North Carolinians are criminals under the CAN law," said Gene Nichol, dean of the UNC School of Law. "But they are not concerned because the straight majority knows that enforcement will be driven by discrimination against gay men and women."

Many people said the crimes-against-nature law is an affront to basic civil rights. "How could any supporter of the CAN law claim to be for limited government?" Nichol asked.

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, also agreed, calling the CAN law a "crime against freedom."

"I'm conservative on cultural issues, but I don't think the government should be legislating cultural norms," he said.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, is currently sponsoring a crimes-against-nature reform measure in the N.C. General Assembly that would decriminalize private, not-for-hire sexual behavior between consenting adults.

While no one expressed optimism that Kinnaird's bill would pass this year, they did point with hope to perceived cultural changes.

Scarborough said recent polls show support for anti-gay sex laws among college freshmen has fallen to 20 percent from 30 percent. "You don't got to love us to think maybe you ought to leave us alone."

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