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Bills decriminalizing sodomy, adultery, and fornication pass through Utah Senate committee

The Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee Monday unanimously advanced two bills which would decriminalize sodomy, adultery, and fornication in the state of Utah.

The task of aforesaid decriminalizing took over a decade to make it thus far. After seated in 2005, then-Senator Scott McCoy took the reigns to overturn the statutes, which were already deemed federally unconstitutional in 2003 by the US Supreme Court.

However, throughout McCoy’s four-year term, his continued efforts failed in passing the Utah Legislature, possibly as the end result being “sacrosanct: codified statements of collective morality. They will never be enforced. At the same time, their chances of repeal are virtually non-existent,” according to a Salt Lake Tribune article in 2005.

Additionally, the social conservative group United Families International and its Utah chapter who vocally opposed such changes during McCoy’s, days now say they no longer take a position.

Both bills were written using recommendations by the Utah Criminal Code Task Force and were passed unanimously by both the task force and the committee.

 Senate Bill 43 (Substitute 1), sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, addresses drug offenses, online harassment, and reduces the penalty of not returning a marriage license from a Class B Misdemeanor to an infraction. In the last few lines of the bill, it simply repeals Utah’s fornication law in its entirety.

No public comments or legislator questions were brought up regarding the fornication repeal during the committee hearing.

House Bill 40, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, addresses sexual offenses in the health care field, allows for a reduced penalty for a 7-year age difference in “sexting” to and from a minor (bringing it in line with laws regarding sex between a minor and someone within seven years of their age), sex offender registration, and other minor law revisions. It also protects sex workers from facing charges for prostitution when they go to police after being robbed or raped. It removes language in the law regarding consensual sodomy and repeals adultery language in its entirety.

No members of the public or legislators questioned or commented on the bill, and it was passed through unanimously to the Senate floor.

Ray mentioned that the United States Supreme Court ruled that sodomy and adultery laws were unconstitutional. In 2007, then-Sen. Scott McCoy tried to remove the sodomy language from Utah law, but met resistance from ultra-conservative groups. The bill went nowhere.

Equality Utah released a statement in support of the removal of sodomy from Utah law:

“It’s long past time that Utah code reflected the legal precedent established fifteen years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Love between consenting same-sex adults should never be stigmatized or criminalized. We hope that the Legislature supports this repeal during the next session,” wrote Troy Williams, executive director.

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