This Month in Queer History: December

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Marriage equality is about love, commitment, and family, but it’s also about sexual freedom. Laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are, in socially progressive states that already bar employment and other discrimination, one of the last remaining institutional penalties for homosexuality.

But it was not so long ago that loving someone of the same sex was a bonafide crime in the United States (it still is in many parts of the world). Laws brought over from England included penalties up to and including death.

Below is a brief overview of notable shifts in the criminalization of homosexuality that occurred during December — via GLAPN’s exhaustive sodomy laws calendar (glapn.org/sodomy).

1642 — Elizabeth Johnson is the first woman in the English colonies to be prosecuted for sexual relations with another woman. Her punishment by the Massachusetts Bay Colony included flogging and a fine.

1785 — Joseph Ross is executed in Pennsylvania for sodomy. His is the last known homosexuality-related execution in the U.S.

1853 — The Oregon Territory criminalizes sodomy.

1881 — Washington criminalizes sodomy.

1907 — The Washington Supreme Court rules that deadly force is an acceptable response to sodomy.

1927 — A California appellate court upholds the sodomy conviction of a man caught by a private investigator who hid under the bed while a couple had consensual sex.

1937 — A California appellate court upholds the convictions of 16 men whom policed spied having consensual sex through holes they drilled in the ceiling to watch.

1963 — An Ohio inmate named Earl Kade is killed by another prisoner after soliciting him. The grand jury feels the killing was justified and refuses to indict the killer for murder.

1967 — A Michigan appellate court upholds the consensual sodomy conviction of two women who had sex inside a tent at a campsite.

1972 — Ohio becomes the seventh state to legalize sodomy and the first to enact gender-neutral sexual assault laws.

1978 — The Oregon Court of Appeals returns the medial license to a physician who’d had it revoked by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners for engaging in consensual sex.