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Lesbian & Gay Rights

Status of U.S. Sodomy Laws

Sodomy statutes generally prohibit oral and anal sex, even between consenting adults. Some laws go much further: Michigan, for instance, outlaws "gross lewdness" and "gross indecency." Penalties for violating sodomy laws range from $200 fines to 20 years imprisonment.

While most sodomy laws apply to both heterosexuals and gay people, they are primarily used to deny lesbians and gay men a range of other rights. For example, some courts have invoked sodomy laws to justify taking children away from lesbian and gay parents. Some cities have even used sodomy laws to arrest gay people for discussing sex, in conversations which parallel those heterosexuals have every day. And because even sodomy laws that legally apply to everyone are generally seen as being targeted at lesbians and gay men, they have been a potent political weapon for those who oppose equal treatment for lesbians and gay men.

Sodomy laws were once on the books in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, but they have been repealed or struck down by courts in 32 states. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court -- in perhaps its most notorious decision this century, Bowers v. Hardwick -- ruled that the Constitution allows states to criminalize sodomy.

In the years since that decision, the ACLU and other groups have successfully challenged several sodomy laws in state court, arguing that their state constitutions provide greater rights than does the federal Constitution. Below is a state by state look at sodomy laws.

Legislative Repeal (25 + District of Columbia)
Sodomy laws that have been repealed through legislative action.

Alaska (1980)
California (1976)
Colorado (1972)
Connecticut (1971)
Delaware (1973)
District of Columbia (1993)
Hawaii (1973)
Illinois (1962)
Indiana (1977)
Iowa (1978)
Maine (1976)
Nebraska (1978)
Nevada (1993)
New Hampshire (1975)
New Jersey (1979)
New Mexico (1975)
North Dakota (1973)
Ohio (1974)
Oregon (1972)
Rhode Island (1998)
South Dakota (1977)
Vermont (1977)
Washington (1976)
West Virginia (1976)
Wisconsin (1983)
Wyoming (1977)

Invalidated by Courts (7*)
States whose sodomy laws were struck down by courts.

Powell v. State, 510 S.E.2d 18 (1998)
Commonwealth v. Wasson, 842 S.W.2d 487 (Ky. 1992)
Williams v, State, 1998 Extra LEXIS 260, Baltimore City Circuit Court, January 14, 1999
Gryczan v. Montana, 942 P.2d 112 (1997)
New York
People v. Onofre, 415 N.E.2d 936 (N.Y. 1980)
Commonwealth v. Bonadio, 415 A.2d 47 (Pa. 1980)
(The state legislature later repealed the law in 1995.)
Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S.W.2d 250 (1996)

1. Maryland had two laws criminalizing private adult sex. The "Unnatural and Perverted Sexual Practice" Act made oral sex between people of the same gender a crime, while Maryland's sodomy law prohibited anal sex. The oral sex statute was struck down in October 1998 as a result of an ACLU lawsuit. In order to end the ACLU lawsuit, the state agreed that the sodomy law should be struck down as well. In January 1999 the Baltimore City Circuit Court entered a final judgment prohibiting the state from enforcing either law for private sex acts. Because the state conducts all criminal prosecutions in Maryland, both laws are now invalid and unenforceable.

Existing Same-Sex Laws (5)
States with sodomy laws that target only same-sex acts.

(1 year/$1000)
( 6 months/$1000)
Sexual Misconduct, 1 year/$1000
Crime Against Nature, 10 years
(Law originally applied to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, but state high court narrowed law to apply to only same-sex couples.)
Sodomy, $200

2. The ACLU began a challenge to Kansas' statute in 1995; the courts upheld it in 1998.
3. Although a Missouri appeals court ruled in 1999 that the sodomy statute does not apply to consensual sexual relations, the sodomy law remains on the books.
4. In June 2000, a Texas Court of Appeals overturned the sodomy law. That ruling affects only a small area of Texas, and the state is planning to appeal the decision.

* Facing court challange

Existing Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Laws (13* + Puerto Rico)
States with laws prohibiting sodomy between both same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

(links from state names are to searchable state statute sites, links from laws go directly to the named provision)

Sexual Misconduct, 1 year/$2000
(Does not apply to married couples)
Crime Against Nature, 30 days/$500
Lewd and Lascivious Acts, 30 days/$500
Unnatural and Lascivious Acts, 60 days/$500
Crime Against Nature, 5 years to life
Crime Against Nature, 5 years/$2000
(Ruled unconstitutional by Louisiana Court of Appeals in State v. Smith; on review, Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the sodomy law in July 2000.)
Crime Against Nature, 15 years (statute cannot be enforced in Wayne County)
Crime Against Nature, 20 years
Unnatural and Lascivious Acts, 5 years/$100-1000
(Mass. Supreme Court ruling on another law suggests that court would strike down the sodomy law as it applies to private consensual sex.)
Sodomy, 1 year, $3000
Unnatural Intercourse, 10 years
North Carolina
Crime Against Nature, 10 years/discretionary fine
Puerto Rico*
Sodomy, 10 years (provision forbids all same-sex activity, heterosexual anal sex)
South Carolina
Buggery, 5 years, $500
Sodomy, 6 months, $1000
Crime Against Nature, 5-20 years

* Facing court challange

Last update: July 2000

Back to ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Home Page





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