Update on the Status of Sodomy Laws
"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:
- ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights and HIV/AIDS 2000: A Banner Year for Attacking Sodomy Statutes, which details the ACLU's strategy for repealing sodomy laws.
- 'Crime' and Punishment in America, a comprehensive listing of states with same-sex and/or opposite-sex sodomy laws, as well as the maximum penalties for conviction.
- Clear and Present Danger, a brief collection of some ways sodomy laws have been used recently to deny lesbians and gay men basic rights and opportunities.
- News bulletins on efforts to overturn sodomy laws:
- Puerto Rican Public, Courts Weigh Gay Rights via Fight over Sodomy Law
- In Historic Settlement, Maryland Clears Sodomy Law off the Books
- Threats to Arrest Gay GOP Convention Speaker Show Sodomy Laws' Dangers
- Louisiana High Court Weighs Sodomy Law (in case that ended unsuccessfully)
- Virginia High Court Hears Arguments on Sodomy Law (Court later upheld the sodomy statute)
- Georgia Supreme Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law
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."