Sodomy law

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A sodomy law is a law which makes certain sexual acts illegal, most commonly anal intercourse. Sometimes the definition of sodomy has been broader and included oral sex as well. Even though many of these laws target both heterosexual and homosexual acts, they are often selectively enforced only against homosexuals; in some states of the US, this practice has been codified and the laws now prohibit only homosexual acts, not heterosexual ones. Furthermore, sodomy laws have normally only applied to male, not female homosexuality.

The term derives from the name of the ancient city of Sodom, which according to the Bible was destroyed by God for its misdeeds. Traditionally, these misdeeds have been understood to be male homosexual anal intercourse; but many today interpret its misdeeds to be homosexual rape, not sex within the context of a homosexual relationship. Further, this interpretation seems to be contradicted by Ezekiel 16:49 which states: "Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy."

While many other parts of the world have, or had, laws against homosexuality or other sexual practices, the term is mainly used when discussing the law of the United States, and is better restricted to that; especially due to the common misunderstanding that sodomy laws are laws against homosexuality, when they at times prohibit some heterosexual acts as well. England has historically had similar laws, but the offence was called there "buggery", not "sodomy".

United States

There has been a trend to repeal sodomy laws across the United States, but there are still many states which still have sodomy laws in their statute books.

Sodomy laws and penalties in US states and territories, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (see http://www.aclu.org/issues/gay/sodomy.html):

In total, 26 states and the District of Columbia have repealed their sodomy laws, 9 states have had them overturned or invalidated by court action, 4 states still have same sex laws, and 9 states and Puerto Rico have laws applying to all regardless of gender. There are 3 states who have sodomy laws whose status is unclear due to ambiguous legal judgments or other court action in progress.

Penalties and Enforcement

The penalty for violating a sodomy law varies very widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The most harsh penalties are in the state of Idaho, where sodomy can theoretically earn a life sentence. Massachusetts follows with a possible 20 year sentence, followed by Michigan with 15 years.

In most US states the laws are no longer enforced, or are very selectively enforced. This has been very helpful to those trying to overturn the laws, as selective enforcement is illegal under US law.


See also homophobia