Definition of sodomy law
A sodomy law is a law that defines certain sexual acts as crimes. The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but are typically understood by courts to include any sexual act deemed unnatural. It also has a range of similar euphemisms. These acts typically include oral sex, anal sex and bestiality; in practice such laws have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples.
Such laws have roots in antiquity, and are linked to religious proscriptions against certain sex acts. Contemporary supporters of sodomy laws argue that there are additional reasons for retaining them.
Sodomy laws can be found around the world. Today, consensual homosexual acts between adults are illegal in about 70 out of the 195 countries of the world (approximately 36%); in 40 of these, only male-male sex is outlawed.
Sodomy laws by country
Section 377 of the penal code prohibits heterosexual and homosexual sodomy with punishments including up to twenty years in prison and/or fines and flogging.
- United Kingdom
Sodomy was historically known in England and Wales as buggery, and is usually interpreted as referring to anal intercourse between two males or a male and a female. In England and Wales Buggery was made a felony by the Buggery Act in 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII. The punishment for those convicted was the death penalty right up until 1861. A lesser offence of "attempted buggery" was punished by 2 years of jail and some time on the pillory. In 1885, Parliament enacted the Labouchere Amendment, which prohibited gross indecency between males, a broad term that was understood to encompass most or all male homosexual acts. Following the Wolfenden report, sexual acts between two adult males, with no other people present, were made legal in England and Wales in 1967, in Scotland in 1980, Northern Ireland in 1982, Guernsey in 1983, Jersey in 1990 and the Isle of Man in 1992.
In the 1980s and 1990s, gay rights organizations made attempts to equalize the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals, which had previously been 21 for homosexuals but only 16 for heterosexual acts. Efforts were also made to modify the "no other person present" clause so that it dealt only with minors. In 1994, Conservative MP Edwina Currie introduced an amendment to Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which would have lowered the age of consent to 16. The amendment failed, but a compromise amendment which lowered the age of consent to 18 was accepted. The July 1, 1997 decision in the case Sutherland v. United Kingdom resulted in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 which further reduced it to 16, and the "no other person present" clause was modified to "no minor persons present". Today, the universal age of consent is 16 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Sexual Offences NI Order 2008 brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom on 2 February 2009 (prior to that, the age of consent for both heterosexuals and homosexuals was 17). The three UK crown territories also have an equal age of consent at 16 since 2006 on the Isle of Man, since 2007 in Jersey and since 2010 in Guernsey.
- United States
Sodomy laws in the United States were largely a matter of state rather than federal jurisdiction, except for laws governing the U.S. Armed Forces. By 2002, 36 states had repealed all sodomy laws or had them overturned by court rulings. The remaining sodomy laws were invalidated by the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas.
As for the U.S. Armed Forces, because "the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society," its ban on sodomy, Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is not entirely without force despite Lawrence v. Texas. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has ruled that the Lawrence v. Texas decision applies to Article 125. 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," but went on to say that despite the application of Lawrence to the military, Article 125 can still be upheld in cases where there are "factors unique to the military environment" that would place the conduct "outside any protected liberty interest recognized in Lawrence." Examples of such factors could be fraternization, public sexual behavior, or any other factors that would adversely affect good order and discipline. Convictions for consensual sodomy have been overturned in military courts under the Lawrence precedent in both United States v. Meno and United States v. Bullock.
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