Sodomy Laws in the U.S.

 

Perhaps the most difficult laws to define regarding sexual behavior are sodomy laws. The most widely used definition of sodomy is “crimes against nature,” meaning that any non-penile/vaginal intercourse, such as oral and anal sex, is considered illegal.1 However, sodomy laws can vary from state to state.

Though some states target both homosexual and heterosexual couples, several states design sodomy laws to specifically target homosexual couples. To date, only four states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana) states have sodomy laws targeted at homosexuals, while eleven states have prohibition laws pertaining to both orientations. While most states do not hold any sodomy laws, citizens should still be informed about their unconstitutionality.

The perpetuation of unlawful sodomy laws is a social ill that fosters ignorance and oppression, a legacy that each country must discontinue at once if it wishes to ever fully call itself progressive.

Arguments in Support of Sodomy Laws

Many conservatives and religious leaders believe that sodomy laws promote and maintain a moral society. Virginia attorney general Cuccinelli believes that it is the state legislators’ goal to enact statutes that will permit populations to flourish. Cuccinelli argues “that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong.

They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law-based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that."2 However, Cuccinelli’s assumption is based on homophobia. Fortunately for memebers of the LGBTQ community, not everyone agrees with the attorney general’s discriminatory.

 

Effects of Sodomy Laws

Before the 1970s, sodomy laws were the norm across the country. It was generally agreed upon that homosexual acts are morally wrong. Thus, most states targeted their sodomy laws at homosexuals (such as homosexual acts and homosexual behaviors). Police could raid and arrest any person seen as conducting homosexual acts that violated the state’s sodomy laws.

The queer community lived in constant fear of being discovered as homosexual. The Stonewall Inn Riots is a great example of police brutality and the harsh effects of sodomy laws. Under New York law in the 1960’s, homosexuality was prohibited in public and in private businesses.3

Stonewall Inn was a place for the queer community to socialize and gather, however it was also the frequent target of police raids. It was not until June 28, 1969 that the queer community at the Stonewall Inn fought back and threw objects at the police. This date would become symbolized as the start of the gay rights movement and the basis for gay rights month in the United States. For more information on Stonewall, please check out this article.

Lawrence V. Texas

On September 17, 1988, Texan sheriffs responded to a false police report. The accuser explained to law enforcement that there was “a black male going crazy with a gun.”4 However, it was later discover that the accuser lied to the sheriffs out of jealousy. The armed sheriffs quickly arrived at the home of John Lawrence and walked into the unlocked apartment.

In the bedroom, sheriffs reported seeing Lawrence and a male partner engaging in anal sex. After reviewing the homosexual conduct law, Sheriff Joseph Quinn charged Lawrence with “deviate sex.”5 However, Lawrence was successfully able to appeal the charge to the highest court.

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Lawrence V. Texas, that sodomy laws are in direct violation of the fourteenth amendment, which grants citizens equal protection under the law. Five justices believed that sodomy laws intrude on the right of liberty guaranteed to all Americans in the constitution. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence.

Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.4

Here, Justice Kennedy argues that the fourteenth armament protects the right of consenting adults to engage in some sexual conduct. Therefore, sodomy laws unfairly encroached on the privacy of heterosexual and homosexual couples. 

The War on Oral Sex

Despite the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Lawrence V. Texas, many states continued to enforce and introduce new sodomy laws. In 2013, Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, attempted to reinstate Virginia’s Crimes against Nature Act.6

This policy would have essentially outlawed oral sex between any two adults, regardless of gender. This sodomy law would have directly violated the Supreme Court’s ruling by proposing legislation that would interfere with the fourteenth amendment. On October 4, 2013, Virginian courts struck down Cuccinelli’s petition to remove Virginia’s anti-sodomy law, thus protecting and upholding individuals’ privacy rights.7

Although Virginia’s courts prevented the sodomy law from going into effect, Louisiana actively charged people with sodomy violations.  On June 27, 2013, the newspaper, The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reported that the East Baton Rouge police department (EBRPD) had been arresting men “who discussed or agreed to meet privately to have consensual sex with undercover officers.”8

The police department stated that they had charged the men with violation of a state stature declaring “unnatural carnal copulation.”9 On June 30, the police department issued an apology to the victims of the sodomy law and assured the public that the policy would no longer be enforced.

However, state human rights groups such as Equality Louisiana stated that “it was really a case of targeting people.”10 Human rights activists believed that the police were discriminatory against the male homosexual population and ruined many people’s lives though incrimination and harassment.

The Fight to End Sodomy Laws

Many organizations, such as equal rights website Lambda Legal. are fighting the sodomy laws in the states that currently employ them to prevent discrimination against homosexuals (at whom many of these laws are targeted). A spokesman for Lambda Legal stated that the laws are still around to keep members of the LGBT community in their Place.11

Gays and lesbians cannot naturally engage in penile/vaginal intercourse, yet this is the only form of intercorse that sodomy laws allow. Even in states where sodomy laws pertain to heterosexuals as well, they severely limit the options that a couple has in the privacy of their own bedroom.

Many people living in states where these laws exist know very little about them, but the penalties can be severe if these laws are violated. For example, in 2011 where two Texan men were kicked out of a Mexican restaurant for “homosexual conduct.”12 The couple claimed that they were just kissing had no idea that the sodomy law existed.

As with any laws, we strongly urge you to visit either Lambda Legal or the State Sodomy Laws website to familiarize yourself with the restrictions, if any, in your state. Changes are happening everyday in regards to fighting these laws, so be sure to keep updated on the developments that affect each of our personal sex lives.

Here are the states with sodomy laws (though not all states enforce the law):

An asterisk indicates the state sodomy law only applies to homosexual sex.

·        Alabama

·        Florida

·        Georgia

·        Idaho

·        Kansas*

·        Louisiana

·        Maryland

·        Massachusetts

·        Michigan

·        Minnesota

·        Mississippi

·        Montana*

·        North Carolina

·        Oklahoma*

·        South Carolina

·        Texas*

·        Utah

 

References

1. Sullivan, Maragret. "A Grandmother on -- Gasp -- Sodomy." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc, 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

2. Schaeffer, Judith E. "Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People -- Another Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 June 2008. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

3. "The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights." The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.Schaeffer, Judith E. "Five Years Later: 4.

4. Decriminalizing Gay People -- Another Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 June 2008. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

5. Schaeffer, Judith E. "Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People -- Another Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 June 2008. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

6. Johnson, Luke. "Ken Cuccinelli Loses Petition To Uphold Anti-Sodomy Law." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

7. Signorile, Michelangelo. "Ken Cuccinelli's War on Oral Sex." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 July 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

8. Robertson, Campbell. "After Arrests on Charges of Sodomy, an Apology." New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 June 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

9. Bennett-Smith, Meredith. "Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

10. Bennett-Smith, Meredith. "Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

11. Bennett-Smith, Meredith. "Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

13. "Sodomy Laws Remain on Books in 17 States, including Md. and Va." Washington Blade Americas Leading Gay News Source RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2013

 

Last Updated 10, October 2013

 

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