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Sodomy laws in the United States

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Sodomy laws in the United States were laws that made certain kinds of sexual activity illegal. In the past, there were federal laws against sodomy. Every state also had a sodomy law, even in the 20th century.

Starting in the 1960s, some states began to repeal (throw out) their sodomy laws. In 2003, in a case called Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. This means no sodomy law in the United States can be used to charge a person with a crime.

Types of laws[change | change source]

Most sodomy laws in the United States made both oral sex and anal sex illegal. However, state laws did not agree on who could not do these things. Every state law made sodomy between homosexual couples illegal.[1] Other state laws also made sodomy illegal between heterosexual couples, if they were not married. The strictest laws made sodomy illegal in every case, even between married couples.[2] Some sodomy laws also included bestiality in their definition of "sodomy."[3]

Creation of sodomy laws[change | change source]

The first sodomy laws in America were created when America was still a colony of the British Empire. In the Jamestown colony (the first permanent settlement in America), sodomy could be punished by execution.[4] Sodomy could be punished by execution in many of the other American colonies as well. In cases of rape or statutory rape, the victim was often punished also. Sometimes the victim was executed along with their rapist.[3] Historians are not sure exactly how many people were executed for sodomy in colonial America:

  • In the 1600s, when executions for sodomy were most common,[3] there may have been five[5] or ten[6] people executed for sodomy (including bestiality)
  • From 1700 to independence in 1776, there may have been five more executions for sodomy (including bestiality)[6]
  • Historian Anne-Marie Cusac says that about fifty people were executed in the American colonies for sexual crimes (though these crimes included rape as well as sodomy)[3]

By the time the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, every state in the new United States had laws that treated sodomy as a crime.[3]

Punishments[change | change source]

Before 1963, every state in the United States had laws against sodomy.[1] The states did change these laws so that sodomy was no longer a capital crime. However, punishments could be as severe as life in prison.[7]

Ethics scholar Richard Weinmeyer writes:[8]

During the 1950s, McCarthyism resulted in state- and nationwide witch hunts of male "homosexuals" in which the acts of oral and anal sex between consenting adult men were [treated the same as] child molestation.

According to the Mattachine Society, one of the oldest gay rights groups in the United States,[9] these were the punishments for breaking sodomy laws in 1964:[7]

State Punishment State Punishment State Punishment
Alabama 2–10 years in prison Alaska 1–10 years in prison Arizona 5–20 years
Arkansas 1–21 years California At least 1 year Colorado 1–14 years
Colorado 1–14 years Connecticut 30 years Delaware 3 years and $1000 fine[a]
District of Columbia 10 years or $1000 fine Florida 20 years Georgia 1–10 years for 1st conviction
10–30 years for 2nd conviction
Hawaii 20 years and $1000 fine Idaho At least 5 years Illinois
Indiana 2–14 years, or $100–1000 fine, or both Iowa 10 years Kansas 10 years
Kentucky 2–5 years Louisiana 5 years or $2000 fine,[b] or both Maine 1–10 years
Maryland 1–10 years Massachusetts 20 years Michigan 15 years
Minnesota 20 years Mississippi 10 years Missouri At least 2 years
Montana At least 5 years Nebraska 20 years Nevada 1 year to life in prison
New Hampshire 20 years New Jersey 20 years or $5000 fine[c] , or both New Mexico 2–10 years or $5000 fine, or both
New York 3 months North Carolina 5–60 years North Dakota 10 years
Ohio 1–20 years Oklahoma 10 years Oregon 15 years
Pennsylvania 10 years or $5000 fine, or both Rhode Island 7–20 years South Carolina 5 years or at least a $5000 fine, or both
South Dakota 10 years Tennessee 5–15 years Texas 2–15 years
Utah 3–20 years Vermont 1–5 years Virginia 1–3 years
Washington 10 years West Virginia 1–10 years Wisconsin 5 years or $500 fine, or both
Wyoming 10 years

Repeals begin[change | change source]

In the 1960s, attitudes toward sex became much more liberal in the United States. As this happened, some states began to repeal their sodomy laws. Illinois was the first state to do this, in 1963.[8] In the 1960s and 1970s, seventeen other states repealed their sodomy laws. Another seven states changed their laws to say that sodomy between heterosexual couples was not a crime. These seven states kept laws that made sodomy between homosexual couples a misdemeanor.[8]

However, some states refused to change their laws. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were constitutional, and that states could continue to use them.[11]

Lawrence v. Texas[change | change source]

By 2003, thirty-one of the fifty states had repealed their laws against sodomy. Fifteen states had laws left that made sodomy a crime. Four more had laws that made sodomy between same-sex couples a crime.

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. It ruled that Texas's sodomy law was unconstitutional. This ruling meant that no sodomy law in the United States was constitutional or could be used to charge a person with a crime.[12] In other words, it made sexual activity between homosexuals legal in every state in America.

At this time, nineteen states still had sodomy laws that they had not repealed.

Some states refuse to repeal[change | change source]

As of 2023, a total of 12 states had not repealed their sodomy laws, even though they cannot be used any more because of Lawrence v. Texas. Nine of these state laws make both heterosexual and homosexual sodomy illegal:

Three more of these state laws ban homosexual sodomy specifically: Kansas,[22] Kentucky,[23] and Texas.[24]

Since the ruling, 9 states and one territory have repealed their sodomy laws:

  • Arkansas (repealed in 2005)
  • Missouri (repealed in 2006)
  • Puerto Rico (repealed in 2006)
  • Montana (directed only at homosexual sodomy via a common law definition)[25] (repealed in 2013)
  • Virginia[26] (repealed in 2014)
  • Utah (repealed in 2019)
  • Alabama (repealed in 2019)
  • Idaho (repealed in 2022)
  • Maryland (repealed in 2023)
  • Minnesota (repealed in 2023)

Notes[change | change source]

  1. A $1,000 fine in 1964 equals about $7,649 in 2016 United States dollars[10]
  2. A $2,000 fine in 1964 equals about $15,297 in 2016 dollars[10]
  3. A $5,000 fine in 1964 equals about $38,244 in 2016 dollars[10]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Cavendish, Marshall (2010). Sex and Society. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. p. 825. ISBN 978-0761479086.
  2. Eskridge, Jr., William N. (2008). "Appendix: The Evolution of State Sodomy Laws, Colonial Times to Lawrence v. Texas (2003)". Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861–2003. New York, New York: Penguin Group. pp. 387-408. ISBN 978-0-670-01862-8.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Cusac, Anne-Marie (March 17, 2009). Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America. Yale University Press. pp. 22-24. ISBN 978-0300155495.
  4. Crompton, Louis (1976). Homosexuals and the Death Penalty in Colonial America. Journal of Homosexuality 1 (3): 277-293. doi:10.1300/J082v01n03_03.
  5. Paternoster, Raymond (1991). Capital Punishment in America. Lexington Books. p. 4. ISBN 978-0669214093.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Espy, M. Watt; & Smykla, John Ortiz (2004). Executions in the United States, 1608-2002: The Espy File. 4th ICPSR ed. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. doi:10.3886/ICPSR08451.v4.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mattachine Society. "Penalties for Sex Offenses in the United States (1964)". Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Weinmeyer, Richard (November 2014). The Decriminalization of Sodomy in the United States. AMA Journal of Ethics 16 (11): 916-922.
  9. "Mattachine Society, Inc. of New York Records: 1951-1976". Archives & Manuscripts, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Inflation Calculator". US Inflation Calculator. CoinNews Media Group LLC. 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  11. Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986).
  12. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
  13. Fld. Stat. 798.02; Fld. Stat. 800.02.
  14. Ga. Stat. 16-6-18.
  15. R.S. 14:89 Archived 2016-04-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. MGL Ch. 272, § 34; MGL Ch. 272, § 35.
  17. MCL § 750.158; MCL § 750.338; MCL § 750.338a; MCL § 750.338b.
  18. Miss. Code § 97-29-59.
  19. G.S. § 14-177; G.S. § 14-184; G.S. § 14-186.
  20. Okla. Stat. § 21-886.
  21. S.C. Code § 16-15-60; S.C. Code § 16-15-120.
  22. Kan. Stat. 21-5504
  23. KY Rev Stat § 510.100 Archived 2016-06-06 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. Tx. Code § 21.06.
  25. Montana Code Annotated § 45-5-505
  26. "2013 Code of Virginia :: Title 18.2 - CRIMES AND OFFENSES GENERALLY. :: Chapter 8 - Crimes Involving Morals and Decency :: Section 18.2-361 - Crimes against nature; penalty".