A jury found Mr. Williams guilty of burglary and sodomy in the first degree. On appeal, Mr. Williams argued, among other things, that Alabama’s forcible sodomy statute was unconstitutional because it excluded a married person from liability. In other words, under the statute, a married person could not be convicted of forcibly sodomizing his or her spouse in Alabama. The appellate court held that the statute, on its face, discriminates between married and unmarried persons, and thus looked to see whether there was, “as a minimum, some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment accorded married and unmarried persons under the statute.” The court considered several traditional rationales for the marital exception. First, the court considered the implied consent theory – i.e., when a women makes her marriage vows, she impliedly consents to sexual intercourse with her husband during the marriage. The court rejected this rationale, finding that a “married person has the same right to control his or her body as does an unmarried person.” Because “any implied consent notion would give one spouse control over the other spouse’s bodily integrity,” it was not a rationale basis for the marital exemption. Second, the court rejected the proposed justification for the marital exemption that it protected against governmental invasion into marital privacy. The court found that marital privacy was not designed as a shield to protect against violent sexual assaults. Third, the court found untenable the argument that elimination of the marital exemption for forcible sodomy would disrupt marriages because it would discourage reconciliation: “When a marriage relationship has deteriorated to the point of forcible and unwanted sexual contact, reconciliation seems highly unlikely. Fourth, the court found problems with proof did not provide a rationale basis for the marital exemption because the evidentiary problems concerning one spouse’s lack of consent to an act of sodomy would be no more difficult than proving lack of consent by a victim involved in a non-marital relationship. Fifth, and finally, the court rejected the argument that the assault statutes provided alternative remedies available to a victim of forcible sodomy by a spouse, finding the vast differences in punishment disproved the alternative remedy theory. The court concluded that there can be no justification for forcible sodomy upon one’s spouse, and a rule that protected unmarried persons from forcible sodomy but not married persons could not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Therefore, the court severed and removed from the statute the marital exemption for the offense of forcible sodomy.
Williams v. State