Friday, January 31, 2014

Sodomy Laws: Only For Punishing Rape?

It has become an article of faith in some circles that the early sodomy laws were only to punish homosexual rape.  I have never found this a particularly plausible claim; when Maryland decapitalized sodomy in 1809, they reduced the maximum sentence to ten years, unlike rape of a woman, which still carried a potential capital punishment.  It seems hard to believe, if the purpose of sodomy statutes was to punish homosexual rape, that it would be a lesser sentence than raping a woman.

This Vermont statute passed March 8, 1787, starting on p. 74, is very clear that only voluntary participants of legal age could be punished:


3 comments:

Tom West said...

Clayton, you say "It has become an article of faith in some circles that the early sodomy laws were only to punish homosexual rape."

What scholars do you have in mind?

In my own research (as I mentioned in an earlier comment), I have not found any unambiguous evidence that anyone after 1776 was ever executed, in Vermont or any other state, for homosexual sodomy.

In general, founding-era (and later) laws regulating sexual conduct, such as adultery and fornication, seem to have been strict on paper but mostly not enforced, unless the act came to public attention in an obtrusive way, e.g. pregnancy.

If you have evidence to the contrary, I would like to see it.

Clayton said...

The ones who submitted a brief in Lawrence v. Texas (2004).

I would agree that many of these laws were not often punished, but was this because they were not enforced, or because the punishments were so severe that people did their very best to not get caught? Or because the shame associated with these activities might have made such law-breaking fairly rare? Or a third alternative: because most of these crimes involved consensual activity, who is going to turn you in?

TOTWTYTR said...

I think it's just revisionist history by the Gay and Lesbian lobby. Much like the revisionist history that claims the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were gay.

It's just more of an attempt to normalize homosexual acts.

I don't much care what one consenting adult does with another, but I won't be forced into a position of approving it.

It's their business, I don't want them to make it mine.