Bill would strike discriminatory laws, establish a permanent commission to recommend outdated legislation for repeal
(BOSTON–1/18/2024) Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to modernize the Commonwealth’s laws and strike outdated and non-inclusive statutes that are discriminatory against LGBTQ+ individuals in the state. Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) voted in favor of the measure, which passed unanimously.
S.2551—An Act relative to archaic laws—would remove archaic laws that intrude on an individual’s privacy regarding sexual activity. The bill would remove existing statutes that criminalize sodomy and so-called ‘unnatural’ acts between consenting adults and make Massachusetts laws more inclusive of individuals who are LGBTQIA+. Terms struck include terminology such as sodomy, “unnatural or lascivious” sex acts, and “common nightwalkers”. In some cases, the language that this bill would strike from the General Laws dates back into the 1800s.
Additionally, the bill would establish a permanent law revision commission to examine common law, statutes and judicial decisions to identify anachronisms in the law and recommend needed reforms; receive and consider proposed changes; recommend changes in the law to align with modern conditions; and make recommendations to improve the openness and accessibility of state laws.
“In the Commonwealth, we can pride ourselves on being a welcoming, inclusive state, and we have taken many steps over recent years to further instill those values,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Removing outdated, archaic language that is inconsistent and incompatible with the values of the Commonwealth is a necessary step to further support the LGBTQIA+ community. I commend my colleague from the neighboring Second Suffolk and Middlesex District, Senator Brownsberger, for his steadfast leadership on this legislation.”
Many of the laws addressed have not been enforced for many years due to superseding state and national law, court rulings, and Massachusetts’ decades-long transformation into a Commonwealth that welcomes all individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill’s passage comes nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, in which Associate Justice Clarence Thomas suggested, in a concurring opinion, that the Court could revisit case law banning the criminal prosecution of sodomy.
The bill won praise from LGBTQIA+ advocates around the Commonwealth.
“We are relieved and excited to see this legislation pass,” said Tanya V. Neslusan, Executive Director of MassEquality. “The Commonwealth prides itself on being a progressive, inclusive state and in that spirit, having the outdated legislation outlawing sodomy and referring to adult sexual activities as ‘unnatural acts’ stricken from our books makes Massachusetts a safer, more inclusive place for all of our residents and visitors, especially those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.”
During the debate, the Senate adopted an amendment striking a law banning blasphemy. Today’s passage marks the second consecutive session in which the Senate has acted to modernize the Commonwealth’s laws to make them more inclusive.
Having been passed by the Senate, the legislation now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.