ACLU Urges Congress to Curb Reach Of Megan's Law

WASHINGTON -- Responding to concerns that gay men and others have been indiscriminately added to sexual offender lists around the country, New York Rep. Charles Schumer Sept. 9 introduced a measure to discourage states from using Megan's Law to register persons convicted solely of consensual sodomy and similar offenses as sex offenders.

Although the Schumer measure failed on a party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee today, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was optimistic that the measure would be considered on the House floor. Schumer also vowed to continue fighting for the measure.

"We are very encouraged by the close nature of today's vote and the continued strong support of Congressman Schumer and many of his colleagues," said Christopher E. Anders, a legislative counsel with the ACLU's Washington National Office who focuses on lesbian and gay rights.

"This amendment would fix a problem that Congress never anticipated when it enacted legislation requiring sexual offender registration," Anders said.

"Countless people are being unfairly added to sexual offender lists nationwide," he added. "The law passed by Congress was written to apply to rapists and child molesters. But several states are including people who clearly are not dangerous, had no involvement with children and pose absolutely no threat to others."

The Schumer amendment would have revised the Jacob Wetterling Act passed by Congress in 1994 and amended by Megan's Law last year. It requires states to keep track of the names and addresses of people convicted of certain violent sexual crimes and most offenses committed against children.

While the Wetterling Act was aimed at protecting children, several states began registering persons who posed absolutely no threat to minors, but who had criminal records stemming from convictions under consensual sodomy and other consensual sexual conduct laws. Many of those involved gay men who were arrested for engaging in consensual sex with other adults.

The amendment would not have altered the registration requirements for child molesters, violent sexual offenders or "sexual predators," but would have sharpened the focus of those crimes by encouraging states to avoid registering persons who pose no threat to public safety, such as persons charged with consensual sodomy, lewd conduct and other similar offenses, the ACLU argued.

Recent news stories have highlighted several cases of people being unfairly targeted. In California, a 90-year-old Orange County man, who is now married, is being added to a sexual offender list because of a lewd conduct conviction for touching the knee of another man in a parked car. The incident occurred in 1944.

And in Massachusetts -- which has one of the nation's broadest sexual registration laws -- a 61-year-old grandfather who was arrested in 1980 for touching an undercover male state trooper is being required to register with the local police. He recently brought a lawsuit challenging the state law.

According to Rep. Schumer's office, a number of states are planning to add consensual sodomy to their roster of sexual offenses that require registration, including Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina.

Nationwide, twenty-one states today have laws prohibiting sodomy betweeen consenting adults, six of which bar sodomy only between people of the same gender, the ACLU said.

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