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Sodomy laws that labeled homosexuals sex offenders challenged in court

Almost 20 years after the Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing consensual same-sex activity, the legacy of bans on sodomy is still being felt in the United States.

In 1993, Randall Menges, then 18, was indicted under Idaho’s “crimes against nature” law for having sex with two 16-year-old men. All three worked and lived at Pratt Ranch, a Gem County cattle ranch that also served as a foster program for troubled teens.

Menges was convicted despite police reports indicating the activity was consensual, and the age of consent in Idaho when a defendant is 18 is 16. After serving seven years in prison, he was placed on probation and forced to register as a sex offender.

Today what Menges did would not be considered an arrestable offense. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that laws criminalizing consensual sodomy or oral sex were unconstitutional. But Idaho still requires those convicted of sodomy or oral sex before the Lawrence v. Texas be listed on the state sex offender registry.

His attorney, Matt Strugar, has challenged a similar statue in Mississippi and is representing Menges and a John Doe in a lawsuit against the sodomy ban in Idaho.

Idaho, South Carolina and Mississippi still require that people who were convicted of consensual sodomy before the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence to register as sex offenders, Strugar said, even though the court has declared that what they had done was not a crime. There are probably hundreds of people in Menges’ predicament, and forcing them to register as sex offenders violates their right to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment, he said. he adds.

“I’m outraged that in 2021 we have what is essentially a gay sex registry,” Strugar said.

Randall Menges.Courtesy of Randall Menges

Hoping to start a new life, Menges moved to Montana in 2018.

“I love the mountains and taking care of horses,” he said. “And I thought the less people I had to deal with, the better.”

Even before the Montana legislature formally repealed the state’s ban on homosexual activity – which the Lawrence ruling declared unconstitutional – in 2013, those convicted under the law were not required to register as sex offenders. But a law passed in 2005 requires people on a registry in another state to register as sex offenders if they move to Montana.

Menges filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana in December, challenging the constitutionality of the Montana policy. In documents shared with NBC News, he said being on the registry “damaged dozens of job opportunities and personal relationships.”

No one believes him on why he should register as a sex offender, he told NBC News. “If they find out, I lose their friendship,” he said. “Even the girlfriends, they don’t buy it.”

The same month he filed his complaint, Menges said he was discharged from a homeless shelter in Boise, where he returned temporarily in 2020.

The Montana District Attorney’s Office did not return a request for comment on the case. In oral argument on March 30, Montana Assistant Attorney General Hannah Tokerud argued that Menges was trying to get a Montana court to rule on Idaho law.

According to the Missoulian, she said the case does not depend on the validity of that law, but rather “on whether he is required to register in Idaho.”

“Montana is forcing Menges to register not because of his criminal offense,” the state wrote in a January dismissal motion, “but because Montana gives credit to other states’ decisions regarding offenders. convicts who are required to register.

“Idaho determined that Menges must register and therefore when Menges moved to Montana he had to register,” the state wrote.

But Strugar said Montana is trying to “pass the buck” to another state while continuing to pursue what he calls an “illegal” policy.

Menges is not seeking to overturn his conviction, he said – the statute of limitations passed a year after his conviction. He just wants to be freed from the shadows that have been cast on his life.

“If someone isn’t an abuser or a rapist, they shouldn’t be subjected to what I have,” Menges said. “If we can change the law, at least it will have been worth it.”

In the end, he would like to return to Montana, where the cost of living is lower and where he can work with horses.

“I have been passionate about horses since I was 6 years old. I would like to get my equine veterinary nurse diploma and take care of them, maybe for a rodeo or for individuals, ”he said. “I just want to go where I want and make the choices I want without it weighing on me.”

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