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What Are Sodomy Laws?


What Are Sodomy Laws?
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Question: What Are Sodomy Laws?

People often assume the term sodomy refers to anal sex between men. In fact, sodomy is an old term that was used Biblically to refer to oral and anal sex between any two people.


These days the term "sodomy" is generally only used in a legal context. It may refer to anal sex, oral sex, or even bestiality (sex with animals).

Many countries have laws prohibiting sodomy, even between consenting adults.

The Legal Background

Though such laws had already been on the books in the United States, according to the ACLU, they only began to actively be used against the gay community in the 1960s. In 9 states the laws were even changed around this time so that they only applied to same sex couples!

Sodomy laws were then used to take away the children of gay men and lesbians. They were also used to justify firing gay people from jobs and they were even used as an excuse to deny gay people rights like the protection from hate crimes.

The Laws Get Repealed

As the guide to gay life explains,

"By the later half of the 1900's efforts began to reverse sodomy laws. However, progress was slowed due to religious activists and the AIDS crisis, which forced gay and lesbian organizations to focus on health."

However, in 2003, the United States Supreme Court declared that sodomy laws were unconstitutional, and the laws were repealed. This is referred to as Lawrence vs. Texas.

Sodomy Laws Claim a Teen Victim

One of the most famous victims of anti-gay sodomy laws was a teen named Matthew Limon. In 2000, Matthew was a developmentally disabled teen living in a group home in Kansas. A week after his 18th birthday he performed oral sex on another boy who was 14.

Both boys said the sex was consensual, but because Kansas had sodomy laws that applied only to gay men, and because Matthew was considered an adult, he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 17 years in jail.

Had he performed oral sex on a girl, the maximum sentence would have been just 15 months.

Matthew was finally released in 2005, after five and a half years in jail. His was the first case to cite Lawrence.

Global Sodomy Laws

Around the world, Canada, Europe, Australia and much of South America long ago decriminalized sodomy. However, sodomy remains illegal in much of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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