ANNAPOLIS – One of these romantic spring nights, you and your spouse, in the heat of passion, might be committing a felony — an uncomfortable legal position that the sponsor of a bill heard Thursday is trying to correct.
Maryland’s criminal code includes two sections on sodomy and “unnatural or perverted sex practices,” both of which can carry a 10-year prison sentence.
The laws are not typically enforced in cases of private contact between consenting adults. But Delegate Frank M. Conaway Jr., D-Baltimore, wants to change the code’s language to specifically protect consensual sex acts between adults.
A giggling House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Thursday on the bill.
“It’s a very touchy subject,” Conaway said.
“Is there really a great need to legalize sodomy in Maryland?” asked Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil.
Smigiel said the language of the bill was vague, and could inadvertently permit incest.
“I’m worried about what will happen if we pass this law,” Smigiel said.
The current criminal code categorizes sodomy as a felony offense. “Unnatural or perverted sexual practices” — defined as “tak(ing) the sexual organ of another or of an animal into the person’s mouth” — are misdemeanors, and can carry a $1,000 fine plus jail time.
The code’s language makes no exception for married couples and does not address the age or relationship between parties, however courts have addressed these issues.
In 1990, Maryland’s Court of Appeals found that the laws cannot be applied to consensual contact between adults of the opposite sex. In 1998, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled that the laws could also not be applied to consensual contact between same-sex couples.
The Office of the Public Defender submitted written testimony in support of Conaway’s bill, noting, “It would only change the statute to make it conform to the current state of the law as pronounced through the Maryland courts.”
There have been previous attempts to change Maryland’s sodomy laws. In 1976, the Senate voted to remove sodomy from sex-offense laws, but the House Judiciary Committee prevented the move. In 1977 and 1987, the Senate voted to remove both sodomy and oral sex from the criminal code, but the measures did not pass the House.
Conaway said he was concerned that the statutes’ current language could be used in arguments against same-sex marriage, a hot legislative topic following the Attorney General’s opinion last month recognizing gay marriages from out of state.
“You’d have two conflicting laws,” Conaway said.
Conaway introduced legislation this session expanding the state’s definition of marriage as “between two consenting adults.”
“It’s nobody’s business what you do in your bedroom,” Conaway said.”You’re not hurting anybody. (The current sex laws) violate the principles of being an adult.”