Sodomy laws in the United States, laws primarily intended to outlaw gay sex, were historically pervasive, but have been invalidated by the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas. While they were often originally intended to outlaw sex acts between homosexuals, many definitions were broad enough to make certain heterosexual acts illegal as well.

History of U.S. law

On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision struck down the Texas same-sex sodomy law, ruling that this private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the due process clause of the United States Constitution. (See Lawrence v. Texas.) This decision invalidated all U.S. state sodomy laws insofar as they applied to noncommercial conduct in private between consenting civilian adults, and overruled an earlier ruling from 1986 in which Georgia's sodomy law had been upheld. (Bowers v. Hardwick.)

Before that 2003 ruling, 27 states, the District of Columbia and 4 U.S. territories had repealed their sodomy laws by legislative action, 9 states had had them overturned or invalidated by state court action, 4 states still had same-sex laws, and 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. military had laws applying to all regardless of gender. In 2005 Puerto Rico repealed the sodomy law and in 2006 Missouri legislatures decided to repeal the anti-homosexual "conduct" laws - leaving only three states yet to repeal anti-homosexual "conduct" laws, including Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

In the U.S. military, the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that the Lawrence v. Texas decision applies to Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the statute banning sodomy. In both United States v. Stirewalt and United States v. Marcum, the court ruled that the "conduct falls within the liberty interest identified by the Supreme Court."[1] However, the court went on to say that despite Lawrence's application to the military, Article 125 can still be upheld in cases where there are "factors unique to the military environment" which would place the conduct "outside any protected liberty interest recognized in Lawrence."[2] Examples of such factors could be fraternization, public sexual behavior, or any other factors that would adversely affect good order and discipline.

United States v. Meno and United States v. Bullock are two known cases in which consensual sodomy convictions have been overturned in military courts under the Lawrence precedent.[3][4]

Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state, punished by a lengthy term of imprisonment and/or hard labor. Over the years, many of the states that did not repeal their sodomy laws had enacted legislation reducing the penalty. Immediately prior to the Lawrence decision in 2003, the penalty for violating a sodomy law varied very widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction among those states retaining their sodomy laws. The most harsh penalties were in the state of Idaho, where sodomy could theoretically earn a life sentence. Michigan followed, with a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment (repeat offenders got life), this was later invalidated by a Court case under Human Rights vs Kelly.

Around the time of the 2003 Supreme Court decision, the laws in most US states were no longer enforced, or were very selectively enforced. The continued presence of these rarely enforced laws on the statute books, however, was often cited as justification for discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

File:Map of US sodomy laws.svg

US sodomy laws by the year when they were repealed or struck down.      Laws repealed or struck down before 1970.      Laws repealed or struck down from 1970-1989.      Laws repealed or struck down from 1989-2002.      Laws struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2003.

State Laws prior to 2003 invalidation

Sodomy laws and penalties in US states and territories, immediately prior to their invalidation in 2003, according to information provided by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union were as follows:

  • Alabama (all sexes; misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year imprisonment and $2000 fine) - only applies to unmarried couples [1] [2]
  • Alaska (repealed, 1980)
  • American Samoa (repealed, 1979)
  • Arizona (repealed, 2001)
  • Arkansas (invalidated by courts, Jegley v. Picado, 2002)
  • California (repealed, 1976)
  • Colorado (repealed, 1972)
  • Connecticut (repealed, 1971)
  • Delaware (repealed, 1973)
  • District of Columbia (repealed, 1993)
  • Florida (all sexes; misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days imprisonment and $500 fine)
  • Georgia (invalidated by courts, Powell v. State, 510 S.E.2d 18, 1998)
  • Guam (repealed, 1976)
  • Hawaii (repealed, 1973)
  • Idaho (all sexes; felony punishable by imprisonment for 5 years to life)
  • Illinois (repealed, 1962)
  • Indiana (repealed, 1977)
  • Iowa (repealed, 1978)
  • Kansas (same sex only; misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and $1000 fine)
  • Kentucky (invalidated by courts, Commonwealth v. Wasson, 842 S.W.2d 487, 1992)
  • Louisiana (all sexes; felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and $2000 fine) [3]
  • Maine (repealed, 1976)
  • Maryland (invalidated by courts, Williams v. Glendening, 1998 Extra LEXIS 260, Baltimore City Circuit Court, 1998)
  • Massachusetts (interpreted by courts not to apply to private acts, GLAD v. Attorney General, 2002)
  • Michigan (felony punishable by 15 years in jail for the first conviction, and life imprisonment for the second conviction.) Ghebre, Rahwa H. "Court strikes down state sodomy laws," The Michigan Daily, 30 June 2003.
  • Minnesota (invalidated by courts, 2001)
  • Mississippi (all sexes; felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment)
  • Missouri (same-sex only; misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year's imprisonment or a $1,000 fine and then later repealed, 2006) [4]
  • Montana (invalidated by courts, Gryczan v. Montana, 1997)
  • Nebraska (repealed, 1978)
  • Nevada (repealed, 1993)
  • New Hampshire (repealed, 1975)
  • New Jersey (repealed, 1979)
  • New Mexico (repealed, 1975)
  • New York (invalidated by courts, People v. Onofre, 415 N.E.2d 936, 1980; and later repealed, 2000)
  • North Carolina (all sexes; felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and discretionary fine)
  • Northern Mariana Islands (repealed, 1983)
  • North Dakota (repealed, 1973)
  • Ohio (repealed, 1974)
  • Oklahoma (same sex only; felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment)
  • Oregon (repealed, 1972)
  • Pennsylvania (invalidated by courts, Commonwealth v. Bonadio, 415 A.2d 47, 1980; and later repealed, 1995)
  • Puerto Rico (repealed, 2005) [5]
  • Rhode Island (repealed, 1998)
  • South Carolina (all sexes; felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and $500 fine)
  • South Dakota (repealed, 1977)
  • Tennessee (invalidated by courts, Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S.W.2d 250, 1996)
  • Texas (same sex only; misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 fine)
  • Utah (all sexes; misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and $1000 fine) [6]
  • Vermont (repealed 1977)
  • U.S. Virgin Islands (repealed, 1984)
  • Virginia (all sexes; felony punishable by 1-5 years imprisonment)
  • Washington (repealed, 1976)
  • West Virginia (repealed, 1976)
  • Wisconsin (repealed, 1983)
  • Wyoming (repealed, 1977)

Note that in the 1970s, sodomy law(s) were repealed in two states (Idaho [7] and Arkansas [8]), but before the repeal took affect, the sodomy law(s) were re-introduced [9] [10] [11] [12].


  • "repealed" - means abolished from the law books (statutes)
  • "law invalidated" (examples are from Court cases, such as; Lawrence vs Texas) - means still in the law books (statutes), but can not be enforced


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