The Sensibilities of Our Forefathers
The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States
By George Painter
© Copyright, George Painter 1991-2001
Northern Mariana Islands
The Kinsey Period, 1948-1986
What began as the United States Trust Territories, a United Nations
trusteeship assigned to the United States after World War II, now is known as
the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).1
In 1952, the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory of the Pacific
Islands promulgated Executive Order No. 32 to create a criminal code.2
High Commissioner Elbert Thomas notified the population of the Territory that
his order created 18 chapters of criminal law that would be effective
immediately upon its issuance.3 The provision
concerning sodomy was worded curiously.
Whosoever shall unlawfully and voluntarily have any sexual relations
with a member of the same or the other sex, that are of an unnatural
manner, or who shall have any carnal connection in any manner with a
beast, shall be guilty of sodomy, and upon conviction thereof shall be
imprisoned for a period of not more than ten years: Provided, that the
term "sodomy" shall embrace any and all parts of the sometimes
written "Abominable and detestable crime against nature."4
This law first hinted that some unspecified persons could commit these acts
lawfully, since it prohibited only unlawfully engaging in sodomy. The
proviso actually narrowed, rather than expanded, the scope of the law, since
no jurisdiction held that frottage or mutual masturbation constituted the act,
and many held that neither fellatio nor cunnilingus did. Unfortunately, there
is no case law in the jurisdiction on this point.
A comprehensive criminal code revision in 19835
decriminalized sodomy. The crimes of sodomy and oral copulation were made
separate, and were defined as activity only without consent or consensually
with a person under the age of 18.6
Period Summary: The Northern Mariana Islands stand as nearly
unique in that the first prohibition of consensual sodomy came from
executive fiat (the others were colonial states). The wording of the
order made it unclear just what was illegal and what was legal, but
made it clear that some undefined acts remained legal, since it
outlawed only "unlawful" sodomy. This remained unchanged
until, after obtaining home rule, a new criminal code of 1983 repealed
The Post-Hardwick Period, 1986-Present
Period Summary: There are no published cases dealing with
the limits of state power to regulate sexual activity in places such
as restrooms or parked cars. Because of the decriminalization of
consensual sodomy, only that occurring in semi-public places still may
be subject to prosecution.
1 In 1986, the laws regulating the
Trust Territories were changed. The name of the jurisdiction was
changed to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and it
became a United States commonwealth.
2 Code of the Trust Territory of the
Pacific Islands 1952, no pagination, issued Dec. 22, 1952.
4 Id. §409.
5 Public Law 3-71, enacted Aug. 25,
1983, effective Sep. 1, 1983.
6 Id. §1304 and §1305 (sodomy);
and §1306 and §1307 (oral copulation).
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