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Advocates Fret Over Sodomy Laws Still on Books in 12 States

Legal codes taken from colonial-era laws used to prosecute LGBTQ+ people by banning some sexual acts are still in place around the country, even though the Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws over 20 years ago. Efforts to remove those laws in 12 states have picked up in urgency since Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in last year's abortion decision that previous rulings affirming the right to privacy should be reconsidered, the New York Times reports. There has never been a mandate for states to update their legal codes since Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated sodomy laws. Gregory R. Nevins, a lawyer at Lambda Legal, said the Dobbs abortion decision “raises the urgency level” for getting the sodomy laws off the books. “And probably for some states means that they’ll be reluctant to repeal it,” Nevins said. “As we saw, there were a lot of old abortion laws on the books that got dusted off after Dobbs.”

Maryland and Minnesota repealed their remaining sodomy laws this year, but sodomy laws still exist in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. If the Lawrence v. Texas decision from June 2003 were overturned, state sodomy laws could be revived “as long as it appears the right to privacy is under threat from a conservative court,” said Wesley Phelps, an author and professor at the University of North Texas. The state laws were inherited from British common law, which considered sodomy a sexual act that would not lead to procreation and banned it. The legal language is not always explicit and it changes state by state. Today, even though the laws are not enforceable, they can still be used to discriminate or, erroneously, to arrest people, leading some state lawmakers to try to repeal them.


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