Class Action Suit Filed Against Mississippi's 'Unnatural Intercourse' Law

JACKSON, Miss.—One might have thought that after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, that states would have scrubbed their penal codes of any references to consensual sodomy, "crimes against nature" that involve oral or anal sex, "unnatural intercourse" and the like. But as the five pseudonymous plaintiffs in a recently filed class action lawsuit found out, though anal and oral sex may now be legal, Mississippi still considers those who committed such "crimes" to be required to register as sex offenders.

In the class action filed in the Southern District of Mississippi on Friday, plaintiffs Arthur Doe, Brenda Doe, Carol Doe, Diana Doe and Elizabeth Doe (no relations) have sued Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and others in the state's administration and investigatory agencies for "continu[ing] to enforce its criminal statute prohibiting sodomy, titled Unnatural Intercourse, Miss. Code Ann. §97-29-59, by requiring people convicted of Unnatural Intercourse to register as sex offenders and follow myriad, onerous prescriptions on their everyday life pursuant to Mississippi's sex offender registry law, Miss. Code Ann. §45-33-21 et seq... Mississippi also requires individuals convicted of violating sodomy prohibitions in other jurisdictions (whether or not those prohibitions are registerable offenses in the original jurisdiction) to comply with Mississippi's registration law. This is so despite the fact that Mississippi's Unnatural Intercourse statute is indistinguishable from the sodomy statute struck down as facially unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Lawrence."

Notably, when the state of Louisiana attempted to force those convicted of the state's Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law to register as sex offenders, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana struck down the CANS statute, and the legislature thereafter struck it from the books. However, Mississippi, a neighboring state, would still require those convicted of CANS and similar laws in other states to register as sex offenders in Mississippi. Four of the five plaintiffs in the present suit fall into that category.

The suit goes on to detail the indignities those branded as "sodomites" must go through to comply with Mississippi's criminal code, including having their photos and personal information displayed on publicly accessible sex offender websites, file changes of address with the state, being forced to disclose all online user names and identities not only to the state but to potential employers, as well as the names and addresses of employers and schools attended—and being barred from certain areas such as campgrounds and beaches where young children may be present. In fact, registrants with young children may be barred from entering the schools their children attend, even for parent-teacher conferences. Failure to comply with the requirements of the Mississippi Sex Offender Registry (MSOR) may be fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned for five years.

The reason the five plaintiffs have filed their suit as a class action is, according to the Complaint, that "The putative class is so numerous as to render joinder impractical. There are dozens of individuals statewise who must register as sex offenders solely or in part because of a conviction for Unnatural Intercourse or a conviction considered to be an out-of-state equivalent. These individuals are geographically dispersed throughout the state."

The plaintiffs are not seeking money damages from the defendants, though they wish to recover court costs and attorney fees, but are mainly interested in striking the Unnatural Intercourse statute and MSOR requirements from the penal code.