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Update on the Status of Sodomy Laws

Document Date: August 22, 2001

“Abominable and detestable crimes against nature” (1)An ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project Update on the Status of Sodomy Laws

“What are you doing in my bedroom?” Michael Hardwick asked a policeman in Atlanta 17 years ago. Hardwick was stunned to see the officer standing in his bedroom doorway. And lesbian and gay people were stunned when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s law against oral and anal sex, under which Hardwick had been arrested.

But just a couple of years ago, Georgia’s own Supreme Court struck down the state’s so-called sodomy law, noting, “We cannot think of any other activity that reasonable persons would rank as more private and more deserving of protection from government interference than consensual, private, adult sexual activity.”

Sodomy laws generally prohibit oral and anal sex, even between consenting adults. While most of these laws apply to both straight and gay people, they are primarily used against lesbians and gay men. For example, some courts say sodomy laws justify separating parents from their children.

In 1961 – when Illinois became the first state to repeal its sodomy law – every other state in America had a sodomy law. Now, 15 states still have such laws. In the 1970s and the early 1980s, 21 states got rid of their sodomy laws. But as the 1980s progressed, anti-gay groups mobilized against the repeal of sodomy laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick significantly hampered legal efforts to strike down sodomy laws.

In recent years, the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project has successfully helped overturn several sodomy laws, including those in Kentucky (1992), Tennessee (1996), Montana (1997), Georgia (1998), Maryland (1999) and Minnesota (2001).

This update includes several current, relevant resources that help put the ongoing effort to repeal sodomy laws in context, and provide a framework for the future of these efforts, including:

1. If you think sodomy laws – and the title of this update – are archaic and harmless, think again. In September 1997, North Smithfield, Rhode Island, police attempted to charge two men who had allegedly engaged in consensual sex with committing “abominable and detestable crimes against nature.”

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