Discrimination cited in push to repeal old laws

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003 and Massachusetts has legally recognized same-sex marriage since 2004, but sections of state law still feature discriminatory restrictions on sexual interactions between consenting adults, lawmakers and advocates said Tuesday.

A bill filed by Rep. Jay Livingstone (H 1758) would repeal a ban on “unnatural and lascivious acts” and strip other anti-sodomy statutes from Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

LGBTQ rights advocates told the Judiciary Committee that sections of that chapter — broadly titled “Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order” — were historically implemented to punish individuals for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“These laws existed on the books for no other reason than to persecute primarily gay men, and they have no place on the books in Massachusetts,” said MassEquality Executive Director Tanya Neslusan.

Lawmakers repealed some of Chapter 272’s archaic sex laws in 2018, including prohibitions on all abortions and the use of contraception by married couples.

Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts LGBTQ Political Caucus, praised those steps but said more work needs to be done to bring the law “into the 21st century.”

“Some of those legal prohibitions are deeply offensive to many in the LGBTQ community,” Isaacson said. “The original intent of some of this language was very specifically to segregate out and condemn LGBTQ people by calling our forms of intimacy ‘unnatural’ or ‘lewd’ or ‘lascivious.’ It was also intended to create the pretense that straight people didn’t practice the very same behaviors. Of course, this became the basis to justify arresting us and jailing LGBTQs for decades and for centuries.”

Livingstone’s bill would repeal or amend what he described as “10 of the most egregious examples” of outdated, unconstitutional or unenforceable laws, including a requirement that all public schools feature a daily Bible reading, criminalization of “tramps, vagabonds and vagrants,” and language declaring the Communist Party “a subversive organization.”

His legislation would also lift a section of state law punishing anyone who “blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world.”

Isaacson, speaking as a “sports fan,” cautioned that the blasphemy ban does not align with the colorful language that Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots faithful direct toward opponents, referees or even their own teams.

“If passionate sports fans at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium thought it was illegal to use swear words, especially when out-of-town teams are playing here, I feel it would be very bad for attendance at those games and therefore for our economy,” Isaacson said.

Two other bills before the Judiciary Committee (H 1847, S 930) overlap in some sections with Livingstone’s bill or aim to repeal additional archaic state laws. Sections they target include one law that declares it to be adultery for a husband and wife to live together following a divorce and another that forbids anyone except a qualified physician from tattooing a person’s body.

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