Decriminalizing Homosexuality

Gaining Rights through Sodomy Law Reform

Authored by: Melinda D. Kane

The Ashgate Research Companion to Lesbian and Gay Activism

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409457091
eBook ISBN: 9781315613147
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042914


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At the end of 2013, the lesbian and gay movement 1 in the United States celebrated dramatic gains in marriage equality—two supportive Supreme Court decisions and the expansion of marriage rights to eight additional states, bringing the total to 17 out of 50 (NGLTF 2013, 2014). Yet, at the same time, the gay and lesbian communities in other countries were being explicitly targeted by anti-gay legal decisions. On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of India over-ruled an earlier lower court decision and reinstated Section 377 of the criminal code criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” (Harris 2013; Itaborahy and Zhu 2013: 69). Just days later on December 20, 2013, after much international controversy, the Ugandan Parliament passed “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” which includes life imprisonment for same-sex sexual activity, requires “persons in authority” to report such activities, and adds criminal penalties for anyone that “promotes” homosexual activities (Cowell 2013; Kaoma 2013). 2 What these legal decisions in Uganda and India have in common is the criminalization of sexual acts between consenting adults—commonly referred to as sodomy. While these decisions sparked international outrage, there is a long history of similar laws across the globe. In fact, the United States did not remove its sodomy laws nationwide until 2003, just over 10 years ago. 3 Regardless of the specific language used in these laws or the acts criminalized, sodomy statutes have been interpreted to essentially criminalize male, and sometimes female, homosexuality (Bernstein 2003; Cowell and Milon 2012; Eskridge 2008; Lennox and Waites 2013). 4

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