A sodomy law is a law which makes certain sexual acts into sex crimes. The term sodomy has in the past been used to refer to any deviant sexual act, often deemed so because such does not lead to procreation. That inclusive interpretation includes oral sex, and bestiality, but the predominant understanding of sodomy relates it to anal sex.
Its believed that sodomy laws originated from cultural and religious beliefs as a result of the health complications associated with it. The tissue lining the rectum is the most absorbent of all the body's tissues, therefore an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases exists.
Impact on homosexuals
A common misunderstanding is that sodomy laws are anti-homosexual. Most sodomy laws target both heterosexual and homosexual acts, including oral sex and anal sex. Although these acts are not exclusively homosexual, the laws against them are selectively enforced primarily against homosexuals.
Frequently, religious beliefs are responsible, if not cited for the existence of sodomy laws. Some sodomy laws include all homosexual or all non-coital sex, including oral sex, frottage, tribadism, and masturbation. Historically, heterosexuals have not been prosecuted for acts covered under sodomy laws. In England, Henry VIII introduced the first legislation against homosexuals with the Buggery Act of 1533, making buggery punishable by hanging, a penalty not lifted until 1861.
After the publishing of the Wolfenden report in the UK, many western governments, including the United States, have repealed laws specifically against homosexual acts while retaining sodomy laws. In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that state laws criminalizing private, non-commercial sexual activity (including homosexual activity) between consenting adults are unconstitutional. However, this does not rule that laws against sodomy are unconstitutional, only laws that discriminate between homosexual and heterosexual acts.
This trend among Western nations has not been followed in all other regions of the world, where sodomy often remains a serious crime. Homosexual acts remain punishable by death in Afghanistan, Mauritania, Iran, Nigeria], Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, and by life in prison in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore and Uganda.
Along with alleged communists, homosexuals were investigated by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy in the U.S., who chaired a committee that produced a report entitled "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government".
The UK has historically had similar laws, but the offence is known as buggery, not sodomy, and is usually interpreted as referring to anal intercourse between two males or a male and a female. Buggery was made a felony by the Buggery Act in 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1885, Parliament enacted the Labouchere Amendment , which prohibited gross indecency between males, a broad term that was understood to encompass most or all male homosexual acts. It was under this law that Oscar Wilde was convicted and imprisoned. Subsequent to the Wolfenden report, sexual acts between two adult males, with no other people present, were made legal in England, Wales in 1967, in Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. The passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 has resulted in further broadening of the legality of homosexual acts, culminating in the age of consent being equalised in 2001.
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