Examples of Sodomy Laws Used to Discriminate Against Lesbian and Gay People

Document Date: August 22, 2001

Sodomy Laws: Clear and Present Danger
Examples of Sodomy Laws Used to Discriminate Against Lesbians and Gay Men

To many people, sodomy laws – state statutes that criminalize private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy – seem like antiquated legal codes that still exist technically, but are not actually enforced. In fact, these laws are frequently used to discriminate against lesbians and gay men. Following is just a small selection of recent examples.

  • In Alabama, the sodomy law was used to deny funding to a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender student group at a state-funded university. Anti-gay groups said the student organization would be using state funds to promote violation of state law. The ACLU, representing the student group, won that case.
  • When the ACLU filed a state lawsuit challenging the sodomy statute in Minnesota, plaintiffs in the case included lawyers and teachers whose livelihood was jeopardized by the sodomy law. Like many professions, the licensing requirements for people in these fields include forbidding professionals from engaging in illegal activity. As long as the sodomy law exists, the successful lawsuit argued, people’s jobs were vulnerable.
  • In Mississippi, courts refused to transfer custody of a teenage boy to his father, despite the fact that they boy’s mother’s new husband had repeatedly beaten the mother in the boy’s presence. A lower court and the state Supreme Court acknowledged that the boy’s father could provide a better home for his son, but denied him custody because he is gay, and Mississippi has a sodomy law. The ACLU represented the father, and by moving the case out of Mississippi’s courts, successfully secured a custody transfer.
  • In Virginia, a number of parenting cases have hinged on the state sodomy law (including the well-known Sharon Bottoms case, where Bottoms’ mother took custody of Bottoms’ child because Bottoms is a lesbian, and thus a criminal under the state’s sodomy law). More recently, the ACLU has been working with a lesbian couple who want to adopt a baby in Washington, DC, and raise it at their nearby home in Northern Virginia. The state of Virginia has to approve this, which it is refusing to do in part because the women are violating the state sodomy law.
  • In Texas, the ACLU fought a social work supervisor who invoked her “emergency powers” to stop placing foster children with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. She was able to use those “emergency powers” because a law (the state sodomy law) was being broken in the homes in question. That social worker is sued the state to stop foster placements in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender homes statewide. The ACLU, intervening on behalf of lesbian and gay Texans, prevailed. A separate legal challenge to the state’s sodomy law continues.

Originally published August 22, 2021.