ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The state of Maryland has repealed the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act, which criminalized any sexual act outside of vaginal penetration.
Anal and oral sex between consenting adults, among other practices, are scheduled to be legal in Maryland beginning Oct. 1.
The repeal was heralded by sexual freedom advocacy group the Woodhull Freedom Foundation as “a victory for the human right to sexual freedom.”
The repeal legislation, HB 131 and SB 54, became law last month after Democratic governor Wes Moore allowed it to go into effect without his signature.
Under the current law those who engage in non-vaginal sex are subject to up to 10 years in prison or a $1,000 fine.
“It’s not known why Moore, who has celebrated other legislative victories for the queer community, such as a law he approved that will improve access to trans health care, didn’t sign the bill,” the Baltimore Sun pointed out. “A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on Moore’s decision to not sign the bill.”
In 2020, the Maryland General Assembly repealed sodomy as a criminal offense. The “unnatural or perverted practice” law has been used in the past to prosecute oral sex, but the vague language may also have been interpreted to mean anal sex and other non-vaginal sexual practices.
The repeal was spearheaded by Democratic state Sen. Clarence Lam, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill in 2022 and 2023, as also the 2020 sodomy repeal legislation.
Although Lam says that legislators were provided assurances that prosecutors would not use the “perverted sexual practice” statute to prosecute LGBTQ+ people, “the Washington Blade reported in 2021 that Harford County sheriff’s deputies charged four men with perverted sexual practice in 2021 — a year after the repeal of the sodomy statute,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
“Ultimately, we were really pleased that, through a lot of effort with advocates and our colleagues in the House, we were finally able to remove” the law criminalizing non-vaginal sex from the books, Lam told the Baltimore Sun. “This is ultimately an overdue win for the LGBTQ community, and we’re happy to see this part of the chapter closed.”
During the Assembly debate earlier this year, several Republican legislators took to the floor to attempt to stop the repeal, claiming that the law, which targets all Marylanders regardless of age, was needed to stop sex crimes against minors.
Woodhull Celebrates Repeal
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation noted that they submitted testimony in February 2023 in support of the repeal.
“We were frank and direct in what we had to say,” the organization explained through a statement on Wednesday. “Prior to the repeal, Marylanders could receive a misdemeanor conviction subject to imprisonment or a fine for ‘taking the sexual organ of another or of an animal in the person’s mouth; placing the person’s sexual organ in the mouth of another or of an animal, or committing another unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.’ The ordinance essentially criminalized any sexual act outside of vaginal penetration.”
The prohibition of consensual sexual activity between adults, the foundation stated, “is a violation of our human rights and bodily autonomy. We cannot allow antiquated and discriminatory laws to remain on the books and leave us vulnerable to prosecution. This exact ordinance was used to arrest four gay men as recently as 2021. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas enshrines our right to consensual sexual activity. Maryland’s ordinance stood in direct opposition to that ruling.
“In a year that has seen massive attacks on LGBTQ+ people and their rights, we are glad to see Maryland do the right thing,” the statement concluded, also thanking the Senators who voted “to repeal this archaic law.”
Main Image: Maryland sexual freedom icon Divine (r.)
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