This year, a criminal court in South Florida sentenced a man for having consensual sex with another man, holding that the defendant “committed an unnatural and lascivious act, to wit, performing and receiving oral sex from co-defendant.”
Unnoticed and unreported, the ruling violates U.S. constitutional law — 15 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished anti-sodomy laws nationwide.
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Florida still hasn’t repealed its own.
In February, the Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence unit of the Hollywood, Florida, police raided a sex shop where, undercover, they paid to access a locked area of the store with private rooms and theaters. There, with pornography playing on the walls, past the sex toys and condoms and DVDs, the detectives arrested the defendant and five other men.
They were charged with crimes against nature and exposing sexual organs in public. Now, the store sits at the back of a dead-end road between I-95 and the railroad tracks — the entrance of the pay-to-enter area has a giant red neon sign above it that says: Private Viewing. The name of the store is the Pleasure Emporium.
It’s a dumbfounding thing — and the Hollywood police raided the shop again in July. In sworn affidavits, the undercover officers said they watched some of the men until they finished, and with the second raid, the arrest count jumped to 19, and the human toll with it. A lawyer for one defendant told me that her client was outed, fired from his job and, already diagnosed with a tumor, lost his medical insurance.
These antiquated anti-sodomy arrests occur across Florida each year, with limited scrutiny. In the Hollywood raids, media outlets reflexively paired mugshots to police blotters and made clickbait. A cursory glance at the Facebook pages of the arresting officers shows a scattering of homophobia and, more prominently, a younger officer’s love and affection for a college friend who is gay. In the churn of the criminal legal system, prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and politicians deferred to habit — arrest, file charges, plea bargain.
It’s a culture inured to and paralyzed by injustice and its sheer scale. One in three Americans has a criminal record of some sort. LGBTQ folks are three times more likely to be incarcerated than heterosexual individuals and black individuals five times more than white people.
What propels these disparities is exclusion, racism, income and wealth inequality and discrimination, which, even in their most explicit and unlawful forms, are accommodated.
Many of the Hollywood cases are pending. The defense lawyers, judges and prosecutors are working them. Someone in the state attorney’s office had the foresight to drop the unnatural-act counts from the July raids, but the other charges remain. This includes February’s so-called unnatural-act crimes.
This needs to change. Broward County’s state attorney for should drop the charges against the men. The judiciary should vacate the convictions and the chief of police in Hollywood, in concert with the mayor and city manager, should issue an apology.
Finally, the state Legislature should repeal Florida’s anti-sodomy laws and work toward meaningful criminal legal reform.
Florida has a long way to catch up to other states— Republican and Democratic-led.
Scott Greenberg is the executive director of the Freedom Fund, a non-governmental organization that works to eliminate the mass jailing of people, particularly LGBTQ individuals.