Lawsuit targets Idaho’s sodomy and crimes against nature law

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BOSIE — A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday that seeks to strike down a longstanding law preventing sodomy in Idaho.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a man who is being forced to register as a sex offender over Idaho’s “crime against nature” law.

The lawsuit alleges that Idaho is requiring the man, whose name is listed as “John Doe,” to register as a sex offender because he had an out-of-state conviction years ago for having oral sex with his wife. The ACLU, on behalf of Doe, contends Idaho is ignoring a 2003 Supreme Court of the United States ruling stating anti-sodomy statutes are unconstitutional.

“Idaho is continuing to criminalize folks who decide to have what folks might consider non-vanilla sex,” ACLU of Idaho spokesman Jeremy Woodson told EastIdahoNews.com. “Outside of that, there is looking at an issue that not just anti-sodomy laws but the enforcement and how sex registries are handled.”

Idaho’s “crimes against nature” statute allows the prosecution of anyone who engages in sexual intercourse with animals, but also anyone who engages in sodomy with other humans. (The lawsuit is only seeking to change the section about oral and anal sex between humans.)

According to a complaint, Doe pleaded guilty in another state to their crimes against nature statute after he had oral sex with his wife. The suit does not indicate what circumstance led him to be charged with the crime. The unnamed state did not and does not require Doe to register as a sex offender, per the attorneys’ argument.

But when Doe moved to Idaho, the out-of-state sodomy charge crime meant he would have to register as a sex offender in the Gem State, according to the court filing.

Doe wants the court to stop state and county officials from enforcing the “crimes against nature” law as it stands, which is compelling him to register as a sex offender. Doe also wants all records expunged showing his past registration as a sex offender in Idaho.

Local laws targeting infamous crimes against nature began before Idaho was even a state. As published in the 1874 Territory of Idaho Laws, crimes against nature were punishable with five years to life in prison.

Historically the law was used to unfairly target the LGBTQ community. Between 1955 and 1957, Idaho’s crime against nature statute gained notoriety for “The Boys of Boise” scandal as reported over the years by the Idaho Statesman. In a 2015 article, the Statesman shared how 15 men were convicted of “immoral” activity involving teenage boys and young men.

The attorneys on Doe’s 2020 case called this “one of the most virulent anti-gay witch hunts in American history.” The laws used in the prosecution of men, some of which were sentenced up to life in prison, remain nearly identical today. A person in 2020 can be ordered to spend up to five years in prison and be required to register as a sex offender.

EastIdahoNews.com reported in 2016 how authorities arrested a Bonneville County man for felony crime against nature after an alleged sexual assault of a man in Idaho Falls. The charge was eventually pleaded down to misdemeanor battery and the man spent a year on probation.

“More than 17 years ago, the Supreme Court declared homophobic laws like Idaho’s Crime Against Nature statute unconstitutional,” Matthew Strugar, one of the attorneys representing Doe said in a news release. “Idaho ignores that ruling and continues to demand people who were convicted of nothing more than having oral or anal sex to register as sex offenders. Just as the state cannot criminalize those sex acts, it cannot force people with decades-old oral sex convictions to register as sex offenders.”

In addition to the ACLU of Idaho, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar and Boise law firm Nevin, Benjamin, McKay & Bartlett are on Doe’s legal team.

“Idaho officials, for whatever reason, seem very addicted to unconstitutional laws,” Woodson said. “The continued enforcement seems to be because there hasn’t been a legal challenge brought.”

In the meantime, Doe’s legal team filed a preliminary injunction to immediately remove and stop the enforcement of the crime against nature statute or require the registration to the sex offender registry including for similar out-of-state laws. The motion points out the 2003 ruling from the supreme court calling such laws unconstitutional.

Scott Graf, the spokesman for Wasden’s Office, said it’s their policy to not comment on pending cases. Wasden’s office has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.