I know what you are thinking: “like who isn’t?” But, gentle readers, I mean sodomy strictly in a historical context. Seven years ago on June 26, the United States’ Supreme Court emancipated Americans from antiquated sodomy laws which prohibited non penis-to-vagina consensual sexual activity. Wahoo!
When I was a youth, I’d never heard of sodomy, not in the movies or on television. It was only when I was 18, and upon hearing the soundtrack from the movie Hair that I first heard the term.
“Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty/Father, why do these words sound so nasty?/ Masturbation can be fun/ Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra everyone!”
After furtively looking up the word, I think I was more shock to learn that it was illegal more than by what it was. Here I was, on the verge on manhood, and I was already labeled a sexual outlaw by America’s legal code — a sodomite! How could this be?
Well, it seems that back in Merry Old England, between divorcing and chopping off the heads of his wives, King Henry VIII introduced the first secular English legislation against sodomy. Actually, “sodomy “ was the Catholic ecclesiastical term for anal intercourse. But since King Harry was asserting the power of the state over the church, the law was called the “Buggery Act of 1533.” “Buggery,” by the way, was punishable by hanging, a penalty not lifted until 1861.
The term sodomy, of course, had Biblical weight behind, it but buggery? What’s up with that? Buggery, my fey friends, came from the French who believed that anal sex was the preferred sexual behavior of the Bulgarians, who, of course, were influenced by the Turks. Confused yet? It seemed that no one wanted to take responsibility for the origin of butt love. Unbelievably, as late as 1895, the Provo Daily Enquirer was still blaming the Turks! Check this out:
“The Infamous crime of Sodomy, brought out with such startling effect at the trial of Oscar Wilde at London, is an Oriental crime. It is practiced extensively by the Turks, and no Turkish bath in Constantinople is complete without its retinue of boys for lewd purposes.”
So, why would the state care, as Romanovsky and Phillips so aptly sang, “what goes into my asshole and who puts it there?” Well, you can blame the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian for the world’s prurient busy bodies! In 538 Justinian codified into law the belief that tolerating homosexuality would bring the wrath of God down upon the state. He said:
“For because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences; wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unlawful acts, that they may not loose their souls. But if, after this our admonition any are found persisting in such offenses, first they render themselves unworthy of the mercy of God, and then they are subjugated to the punishment enjoined by law.”
The Justinian Code was used for a thousand years during the Middle Ages. It still influences moralists today who insist that tolerating homosexuality will insure God’s Wrath upon our nation. Think Pat Robertson and also the Westboro Baptist Church. (Now spit and rinse.)
The Puritans may have brought this belief in a pissed off God and a strict interpretation of Leviticus with them to the American colonies, but during the Age of the Enlightenment a legal system based on society’s desires and not deity began to appear. Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769) are regarded as the most influential writings in the development of the U.S. legal system. Still, Blackstone defined the crime of butt love “as the abominable and detestable crime against nature.” A variation of the phrase is the “infamous crime against nature.” The term “crime against nature” first appeared in legal usage in 1828 and was used extensively for over 100 years.
After Utah was organized as a territory it enacted its first code of laws in 1851. These laws included a criminal code that prohibited “any man or boy” from having, or attempting to have “any sexual intercourse with any of the male creation.” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment “as the court may direct.” However, in the following year a new code was adopted where sodomy was not mention. This silence gave sodomy de facto legalization in the territory. Still, any Saint who had a hankering for some one-on-one man action thought better of it after in 1853, when Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt gave a sermon recommending “blood atonement” for anal sex.
Sodomy did not become a crime in Utah until 1876 when the Territory adopted the legal code of California. Utah then became the 44th state to outlaw it. From that date on, account after account of men being tried for the “crime against nature” can be found in the state’s newspapers.
By the 20th Century the term “crime against nature” began to be replaced with the word sodomy. Utah’s penal code called for a three to 20 year sentence for anyone convicted of man love. It remained a felony in Utah until 1969.
In 1923, the Utah state legislators amended the state law code to add oral sex. Fellatio and cunnilingus were now part and parcel with sodomy as a crime. At this instant, women who liked women became sodomites, too. This decade in America was rampant with morality legislation, including, most famously, Prohibition. In 1925 the state legislators even passed a law that those convicted of sodomy could be castrated — although Utah only sterilized people with mental disabilities during this time.
By 1951 Utah enacted a “psychopathic offender law” which allowed judges to send anyone convicted of sodomy, lewdness or an attempt to commit either to the state mental hospital for life. I found newspaper articles about at least two Ogden men who received life sentences. Until 1974 homosexuality was a pathology, and commitment for life was compulsory for anyone determined to be suffering from mental illness.
While sodomy laws are still on Utah law books today, they cannot be enforced unless the act is not consensual. You can safely do the dirty deed without fear that the police will find you and arrest you in your bedroom as they did to Michael Hardwick in 1982.
Now that’s a reason to celebrate and sing Cole Porter’s anthem “Baby If I’m the Bottom You’re the Top!”