Taboo of Sodomy in the West

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This paper will examine the taboo of sodomy in western society originating from Christianity, and how increasing defiance led to revolutionary changes in thought, sexual norms, and laws in the United States. Throughout history, western civilization has condemned sodomy on the basis of religion and ethics. In the United States, the debate regarding sodomy turned into a debate on homosexuality and the rights of the individual. The laws that regulate activities that have been labelled taboo have been defied increasingly in recent history sparking a discussion on sexuality that has proved revolutionary. The foundation for the revolutionary change of thought in the United States began with the Supreme Court cases of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). These two cases challenged sodomy laws and the nations views of homosexuality. Christianity’s influence on western civilization is significant, and sodomy is considered to be an abomination that harms the relationship between god and humanity, as it appears in the Bible’s book of Genesis. The laws regulating sodomy- particularly homosexual behavior allowed for the discrimination of the LGBTQ community. It was not until individuals were brave enough to challenge the taboo on homosexuality and sodomy laws that same-sex relationships were normalized and sodomy laws were dismantled.

The United States of America throughout history has been a primarily Christian nation. As a result, the laws that have been implemented in the states are a direct reflection of what is considered moral or immoral by the citizens. The origin of the taboo of sodomy is in the Bible’s book of Genesis. The anti-homosexual attitudes are often justified using the Bible. To comprehend the taboo surrounding sodomy, it is critical to understand the history of Christianity. According to Pew Research Center Religion and Public Life Christianity is the most prominent religion in the United States at 70.6% of the religious population. Chapters 18 and 19 in the book of Genesis tell the story of the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The word sodomy derives from the name of the city ridden with sin, Sodom. In many societies, “sodomy refers to what was (and is, in some societies) considered the deviant sexual behavior of anal sex. Alternatively, sodomy refers to any sexual interaction between members of the same sex. The term comes from the Hebrew, s’dom, meaning “city of sin,” (New World Encyclopedia Sodomy).” In the Christianity, sodomy is considered a sin because it is seen as inhospitable behavior. The violation of hospitality is found in Genesis 19:5 “They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may have sex with them.’” Some scholars argue that the Hebrew text was mistranslated. The word for “have sex with” can also simply mean to “do violence to.(New World Encyclopedia Sodomy)”. The men of Sodom gathered outside Lot’s home waiting to have sex with the two male angels that were disguised as human beings. The Biblical account of inhospitable sexual behavior between males led religious people to believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, therefore, it is appropriate to discriminate against homosexuals and enact laws that would regulate homosexual behavior. The United States adapted these laws that were created to oppress homosexuality, and justify bigotry towards homosexuals.

A number of US states have had laws prohibiting sodomy for centuries. Initially, the laws against sodomy in the United States were created for two purposes, “[f]irst, sodomy laws sought to protect “public morals and decency”; sodomy was listed along with bigamy, adultery, the creation and dissemination of obscene literature, incest, and public indecency. Second, these laws were used to protect women, “weak men,” and children against sexual assault (AMA Journal of Ethics The Decriminalization of Sodomy in the United States)”. Homosexuality was not the primary target of sodomy laws until the 1950’s. At this time, the citizens of the United States were concerned with the country’s morality. Accepting homosexulity was seen as a threat to the country as many believed it was a sign of deteriorating morals. In the 50’s, senator Joseph McCarthy targeted homosexuals based on this same notion. His rhetoric led to widespread hysteria; “McCarthyism resulted in state- and nationwide witch hunts of male “homosexuals” in which the acts of oral and anal sex between consenting adult men were conflated with child molestation (AMA Journal of Ethics The Decriminalization of Sodomy in the United States)”. Homosexuality was increasingly viewed as unnatural, criminal, and dangerous to the American public. It represented a shift in cultural norms and ideas of sexuality. This led to a public outcry for tougher penalties for those caught engaged in homosexual activities. Sodomy laws have existed in the United States since colonial times, but at this time in US history the country was still largely Christian, and the taboo on sodomy was used to initiate the widespread criminalization of homosexuality.

Legal authorities in the United States were critical of sodomy laws because they could be in violation of the individual’s right to privacy. An individual could be prosecuted for engaging in sodomy in their own home. However, “[i]n 1955 the American Law Institute voted to decriminalize consensual sodomy, and the MPC subsequently did not include such laws in its statutory language. Twenty years after McCarthyism swept the country, “the United States Supreme Court established that, within the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, there exists a right to privacy that prevents states from “interfer[ing] with people’s control of their own bodies, disrupt[ing] personal relationships, and intrud[ing] into the innermost sanctum of the home, the bedroom”. (AMA Journal of Ethics The Decriminalization of Sodomy in the United States)”. In many cases sodomy laws that targeted homosexuals were in violation of the individual’s right privacy, but unlike the American Law Institute and other prominent legal authorities the states were primarily concerned with suppressing homosexuality for the sake of the country’s morality. The laws targeting homosexual sodomy could not be dismantled until the public was ready to challenge sexual norms and transform societies perspective on the LGBTQ community. Although decriminalizing consensual sodomy demonstrated a progression towards more accepting views religion was still prominent in guiding moral ideals and homosexuality was not widely accepted in the US.

The first challenge to sodomy laws is the Supreme Court case of Bowers v. Hardwick. Michael Hardwick was found performing an oral sex act on another male in his apartment by a Georgia police officer. Although the sex was consensual both men were arrested for violating Georgia’s sodomy laws. While the case was being reviewed “Justice Byron White argued that the Court has acted to protect rights not easily identifiable in the Constitution only when those rights are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” (Palko v. Connecticut, 1937) or when they are “deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition” (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965) (Oyez. Body Politic Bowers v. Hardwick).” The verdict in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick laid the foundation for future court cases that further challenged discriminatory laws. The outcome of this case was not a victory for the progressives. It solidified that the country was not yet prepared for a shift in sexual norms. It did however provide a basis for the important cases that would follow. Homosexual sodomy was still a taboo as Conservatism was on the rise under President Reagan.

In 2003 a similar case was presented to the Supreme Court. John Lawrence was also found in his house engaged in a consensual sex act with another man. Lawrence and his partner Tyrone Garner were both arrested for violating the sodomy laws in Texas. This resulted in both “Lawrence and Garner being arrested and convicted of deviate sexual intercourse in violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. In affirming, the State Court of Appeals held that the statute was not unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, with Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), controlling (Oyez. Body Politics Lawrence v. Texas)”. In this court case, the judges were concerned with the individual’s right to privacy in situations that involved consensual and private intimacy. The Supreme Court concluded that “…the Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause.

After explaining what it deemed the doubtful and overstated premises of Bowers, the Court reasoned that the case turned on whether Lawrence and Garner were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause. “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government,” wrote Justice Kennedy (Oyez. Body Politics Lawrence v. Texas)”. This was a landmark decision by the United States highest court making it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples more harshly than opposite-sex couples. The decision was revolutionary because for the first time in United States history a court granted homosexuals a form of equality by dismantling laws that were constructed against them. The bravery that allowed Lawrence and Garner to dispute century old laws paved the way for LGBTQ progress in America. This marked the beginning of the transition to decriminalizing homosexuslity. The attitudes of the American public were transforming and the taboo on sodomy was lessening.

Twelve years after Lawrence v Texas the Supreme Court ruled on a case that would be considered a historic victory for the LGBTQ community. Obergefell v. Hodges was decided in 2016. This ruling made it legal for same-sex couples to marry nationwide. The right of same-sex couples to marry is also derived from the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The conclusion that the court reached in this case was that the “[d]ue Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. This dynamic is reflected in Loving, where the Court invoked both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause; and in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374 (Cornell Law School Obergefell v. Hodges)”. Legalizing same-sex marriage in a nation that has a long history of discriminating against homosexuality is revolutionary. It would have been impossible to reach a verdict granting equality to the LGBTQ community if homosexual behavior was still viewed as unnatural or taboo. The individuals that publicly defied the notions of homosexuality assisted in shaping a new attitude that favored equality and a separation from religion and government.

Christianity was an influential force in the implementation of certain state laws. Homosexuality was targeted as unnatural and a threat to the relationship between God and humanity. Biblical teachings were used to justify hatred and oppression. The presence of heroism in the individuals that did not conform to prejudice made it possible for the country to undergo revolutionary changes in a rather short period of time. The unwillingness of homosexuals to accept legal oppression forced the United States to adopt laws that strive towards a greater sense of equality. Within the last century, the US has made significant progress by becoming allied with the LGBTQ community. The decision to oppose discrimination and legalize same sex marriage demonstrates growth and a movement away from Christianity. Increasing secularization has diminished the taboo around homosexuality.

Work Cited

  1. “Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 11 May 2015,
  2. “Sodomy.” Ohio River – New World Encyclopedia, New World Encyclopedia, 2011,
  3. Weinmeyer, Richard. “The Decriminalization of Sodomy in the United States.” Journal of Ethics | American Medical Association, American Medical Association, 1 Nov. 2014,
  4. “Bowers v. Hardwick.” Oyez, 26 Feb. 2019,
  5. “Lawrence v. Texas.” Oyez, 26 Feb. 2019,
  6. “OBERGEFELL v. HODGES.” LII / Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute,
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