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Coverage of Virginia politics and the 2014 election.

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Garrett’s “crimes against nature” bill advances

A Senate committee has unanimously approved a bill meant to fix Virginia’s unconstitutional sodomy statute.

Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, said his bill was meant to clean up the outdated “crimes against nature” code section.  Ten years ago, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Texas case ruled that state’s sodomy law unconstitutional, leading to the belief that Virginia’s sodomy law would be unconstitutional also. But the law remained on Virginia’s books and the definitions it contained were used in other state code sections. Thus Virginia’s sodomy law has been intertwined with prosecutions for sexual offenses for the past 10 years.

Last year, however, the Fourth Circuit court held that the law was invalid, in a case that involved a man who had been convicted under the Virginia sodomy law for soliciting oral sex from a minor.

Prosecutors say there’s a valid legal argument to be made, that past convictions for crimes defined by the invalid law could be overturned. So they want to clean up the code, particularly to prosecute adults who solicit oral or anal sex from children.

“I’m not trying to expand what’s illegal. I’m trying to maintain the protections for children,” Garrett said Thursday. “I’m not concerned with what happens in anyone’s bedrooms, as long as they’re consenting.”

He’s gotten flak for the bill from national websites and from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said Garrett’s bill penalized as a felony sex acts between some minors, and treated intercourse differently from other types of sex.

But no one spoke up at the committee hearing against Garrett’s bill.

He lined up county commonwealth’s attorneys to testify that his bill will fix a real problem in prosecuting adults preying on minors.

“This is a very perilous situation for the commonwealth,” said Stewart Pettoe of the state Crime Commission.

Garrett’s bill was approved by the Courts Committee but must go next to the Senate Finance committee for review.

Garrett, who had been infuriated by what he viewed as “gross mischaracterization” of his bill by left-leaning websites, said he felt “vindicated” by the committee’s support.

“When the facts came out, it was clear something needed to be done,” he said.