The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is asking a federal court to declare unconstitutional a state law that calls consensual sex between two same-sex teenagers “the infamous crime against nature.” The law allows for a possible sentence of five years to life in prison.
The civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a Washoe County teen referred to as John Doe seeks just $1 in damages from Elko County and District Attorney Mark Torvinen. But it also seeks to invalidate what ACLU state legal chief Staci Pratt called a “homophobic relic” of a bygone era.
“The law says that if you are engaged in a same-sex relationship and you’re between the ages of 16 and 18, you’re committing a crime against nature,” Pratt said earlier this week. “The law is patently unconstitutional because it treats identical conduct differently based solely on whether the sexual activity involves two persons of the same sex.”
Kristen McQueary, a prosecutor in Torvinen’s office, did not immediately respond to messages about the lawsuit.
The state law makes it a felony if a person “incites, entices or solicits a minor to engage in acts which constitute the infamous crime against nature.”
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Reno notes that the age of heterosexual consent in Nevada is 16.
It alleges that the 17-year-old plaintiff was arrested last year in Elko on juvenile delinquency charges alleging that consensual sex he had with two other teens violated a narrow provision of state law that Pratt said criminalizes sexual contact between people who are 16 to 18 and of the same sex.
One charge was eventually dropped, and the teen pleaded guilty last November to a reduced misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. He was sentence to perform community service.
Pratt said the ACLU was seeking class-action status in the case because prosecutors in other Nevada counties could file similar charges under similar circumstances.
“No DA should have the power to prosecute a teenager who’s above the age of consent for homosexual activity,” Pratt said. “We could see this happen again and again.”