This Month in Queer History: January 2013

Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin
Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin

1706 – Castration is no longer a penalty for sodomy in Pennsylvania.

1829 – William Maxwell is the last English sailor to be hanged for sodomy.

1868 – Colorado prohibits individuals convicted of sodomy from voting, holding office, jury service, and giving testimony.

1913 – Oregon amends its sodomy law, expanding it to include all acts “sexual perversity,” including erotica. (By contrast, 100 years later, Portland’s X-rated open mic night “Dirty Queer” celebrates its 6th anniversary.)

1919 – The California Supreme Court strikes down a law against fellatio and cunnilingus because it is concerned people don’t know what the Latin words mean. This stands for five years until (in January 1924) an appellate court rules that the English-language euphemistic expression “an assault to commit the crime against nature” works because everyone totally knows what that means.

In related news, in 1941 the Rhode Island Supreme Court rules that being called a “cocksucker” in anger is not slander … without actually using the word “cocksucker” in the opinion. Instead, it calls the word “a filthy term meaning coition by one man with another per os.”

1949 – The Utah Supreme Court argues in favor of “treatment” for homosexuality rather than penalties for sodomy in the first such opinion in the United States to reference sexologist Alfred Kinsey.

1952 – The Montana Supreme Court rules that spanking is not sodomy, and therefore not illegal.

1953 – Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin is arrested for having sex with another man in Los Angeles.

1957 – A Montana man gets a retrial after the state’s Supreme Court rules his sodomy conviction was based solely on the fact that he spent a lot of time with his partner. In other words, he seemed gay so they figured he must be breaking the law.

1957 – The American Civil Liberties Union writes in a position paper that it supports sodomy laws.

1958 – A Texas appellate court says the state can try sodomy defendants without an attorney.

1961 – The New Jersey Supreme Court adds practicing law to the list of things gay people can’t do when it suspends an attorney who had gay sex until he is “cured” of his homosexuality.

1992 – The Idaho Court of Appeals says that life in prison is a permissible and acceptable punishment for private, consensual sodomy.

Compiled by Erin Rook. Source: The Sodomy Calendar, Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest.