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Butt Sex Still Illegal In 12 States Despite 2003 Supreme Court Ruling

Everyone agrees that 2003 started off shitty: in February, the NASA space shuttle Columbia broke up while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere killing all seven astronauts onboard, a fire in Rhode Island’s Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured 230 others and then in March, the Unites States military invaded Iraq under false pretenses and with no exit plan. Shitty shitty shitty.

But then in June something wonderful happened: in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down all anti-sodomy laws nationwide as unconstitutional saying that state intrusion into the private sexual activities of consenting adults furthered no state interests. Furthermore, they said that using sodomy laws specifically to target gay and bisexual men violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause guaranteeing fair application of laws regardless of gender.

Nevertheless, sodomy laws remain on the books in 12 states including Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah; and even though the 2003 Supreme Court ruling effectively invalidates these laws, in the three states linked above (as well as in the others), legal authorities have continued using them to harass and publicly humiliate gay and bisexual men. If that wasn’t bad enough, some anti-LGBT, right-wing groups like Alliance Defending Freedom point to these laws as proof of U.S. support of anti-sodomy laws in foreign countries like Jamaica and India.

And even though some of these laws apply to heterosexual oral and anal sex, most historical research shows that they’re largely used against gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Police or prosecutors will sometimes add a sodomy charge on top of a public lewdness or prostitution charge to enhance the punishment. Alternatively they require people previously convicted of sodomy to stay registered as a sex offender, which can cause all sorts of problems getting jobs, being allowed near kids and living peacefully in a neighborhood since it makes you part of a public registry. 

These laws remain on the books for three reasons: 1) lazy state legislators don’t want to go through the procedural hassle of repealing these laws, 2) conservative legislators don’t want to go on record as “supporting sodomy”, and — perhaps the biggest reason — 3)  these laws have a symbolic function of showing a state’s continued opposition to certain behaviors. Even though police aren’t legally allowed to prosecute people for sodomy, some legislators and citizens remain proud to keep these laws on the books as a symbol of their priggish social values.

Luckily, several state Supreme Courts (like Alabama’s) have ruled their states’ anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional — doubling-down on the federal ruling in case folks weren’t clear — while some legislators (like one in Texas) have begun actively seeking to repeal their states’ laws lest they characterize their state as bigoted and behind the times.