A Victory Against Mississippi's Homophobic "Sodomy" Law

In response to a lawsuit filed by my office and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the state of Mississippi has agreed to remove 29 people from its sex offender registry who were forced to register under the state’s archaic and homophobic “sodomy” statute.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court declared that laws that criminalize oral or anal sex (so-called “sodomy” laws) were an unconstitutional intrusion on the privacy, dignity, and autonomy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite this ruling, a handful of stubborn states still cling to their unconstitutional sodomy laws.

Mississippi is one of those states. Its law (Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-29-59) makes it a crime simply to have oral or anal sex. And Mississippi requires people who are convicted of having oral or anal sex to register as sex offenders—displaying their pictures and home addresses on the sex offender website and preventing them from accessing many parks, beaches, and even their own children’s schools. We filed suit to strike down the sodomy statute and the requirement that people with sodomy convictions be forced to register.

Mississippi’s sex offender law also requires people with convictions from other states to register in Mississippi if either 1) they were required to register in the state of the conviction; or 2) if their crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi.

Neighboring Louisiana treats prostitution for oral or anal sex differently from prostitution for vaginal sex. While prostitution involving vaginal sex does not require registration, Louisiana mandated registration for anyone convicted under its Crimes Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law—i.e., exchanging oral or anal sex for money. The Center for Constitutional Rights successfully challenged that registration requirement in Louisiana, leading Louisiana to remove hundreds of people (primarily poor women of color) from its sex offender registry.

But when anyone with a Louisiana CANS conviction moved to Mississippi, Mississippi required them to register. After explaining to the state that CANS was no longer registerable in Louisiana, Mississippi asserted that it was not requiring registration because the original state required it, but that the crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi because CANS convictions were equivalent to a conviction under Mississippi’s sodomy law.  

While we continue to fight to strike down Mississippi’s sodomy law and the registration requirement for sodomy convictions, we have reached an agreement with state to remove everyone who is registered for CANS convictions from the sex offender registry. The state also agreed to not require registration for CANS convictions in the future.

This victory lifts an enormous burden from the lives of these 29 people, many of whose convictions are decades old. They no longer have to report every movement to the state. Their pictures and addresses will be removed from registry. They will hopefully escape the intense social stigma that accompanies registration. Mothers and grandmothers will be able to go to parks and beaches with their children and grandchildren.

You can read the order approving the settlement here.