As they say, one man’s sodomy is another man’s Saturday. Derived from a legal doctrine known as “church law,” sodomy ordinances were passed to stop non procreative sexuality wherever it might be found and was particularly aimed at sexuality conducted outside the marital bounds. Indeed, for the bulk of the 19th and 20th-century, sodomy was typically used to buttress other more serious crimes like sexual assault, sex with animals, pedophilia, or indulging in sex in public. The focus of these laws was sex, and the overwhelming majority involved heterosexual sexual acts. This began to change in the 1960s and 1970s when the laws took a decidedly anti-gay slant in their application. In 2021, there are still currently 16 states with sodomy laws on the books, but the 2003 Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, rendered many of these state laws moot as the court delivered a 6-3 ruling against
The Significance of Lawrence v. Texas
The bulk of sodomy laws across the states were structured in such a way as to target the LGBTQ community obliquely. While nominally directed against aberrant sexual habit regardless of whether the activity is homosexual or heterosexual, enforcement was concentrated on the former and ignored the latter. Three states, however, have written their legal code to specifically target only same sex relations. These include Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas.
When a 1998 arrest led a Texas man, John Lawrence, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge under the state’s anti-sodomy laws, the path was set on an eventual rollback of sodomy laws across the country. The case would through the appellate system before the highest court in the land in 2003. Ruling that consensual, intimate sexual conduct is a protected liberty under the constitution’s Due Process Clause. As such, the ruling not only vacated the conviction of John Lawrence, but it also invalidated similarly discriminatory laws across those jurisdictions.
Sodomy Laws by State
That being said, anti-sodomy legislation is still on the books in 16 states, but the Lawrence decision has effectively stripped away all provisions, save strictures against bestiality, in the laws of these states. These states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiaa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. States that do not have an anti-bestiality law on the books will generally protect their animal population under a range of animal cruelty or public health statutes.