Last edited: April 27, 2007


District of Columbia

  • Statute: Reformed 1993, repealed completely in 1995. The adultery and fornication laws were repealed in 2004.

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22-3502. Sodomy.

(a) Every person who shall be convicted of taking into his or her mouth or anus the sexual organ of any other person or animal, or who shall be convicted of placing his or her sexual organ in the mouth or anus of any other person or animal, or who shall be convicted of having carnal copulation in an opening of the body except sexual parts with another person, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or be imprisoned for a period not exceeding 10 years. Any person convicted under this section of committing such act with a person under the age of 16 years shall be fined not more than $1,000 or be imprisoned for a period not exceeding 20 years. And in any indictment for the commission of any of the acts, hereby declared to be offenses, it shall not be necessary to set forth the particular unnatural or perverted sexual practice with the commission of which the defendant may be charged, nor to set forth the particular manner in which said unnatural or perverted sexual practice was committed, but it shall be sufficient if the indictment set forth that the defendant committed a certain unnatural and perverted sexual practice with a person or animal, as the case may be: Provided, that the accused, on motion, shall be entitled to be furnished with a bill of particulars, setting forth the particular acts which constitute the offense charged.

(b) Any penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime specified in this section. Proof of emission shall not be necessary. (June 9, 1948, 62 Stat. 347, ch. 428, title I, 104; 1973 Ed., 22-3502.)

Sec. 22-1602. Fornication.
If any unmarried man or woman commits fornication in the District, each shall be fined not more than $300 or imprisoned not more than 6 months or both.


The District of Columbia was formed out of parts of Maryland and Virginia in 1801. The laws of each jurisdiction held sway until the Virginia lands were retroceded in 1946. Various criminal codes were enacted from time to time, but none explicitly included penalties against sodomy until 1948 when Congress enacted a statute "to provide for the treatment of sexual psychopaths in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes." The law was passed during an anti-Gay witch hunt sweeping the District and supported by the liberal Washington Post.

Dr. Franklin E. Kameny began the repeal effort in 1963 in testimony before Subcommittee No. 4 of the Committee on the District of Columbia of the US House of Representative, Chaired by Rep. John Dowdy (D-Texas), entitled "Amending District of Columbia Charitable Solicitation Act". The hearing took place on August 8 and 9, 1963. 

Frank Kameny testified as President of the Mattachine Society of Washington. 

"Mr. Kameny. -- If it is objected that homosexual acts are against the laws of man in the District of Columbia, then we say that this committee makes the laws of man in the District of Columbia and the remedy for the situation lies with the committee. Change the law and make the acts legal. I take this opportunity formally to recommend to this committee that section 22-3502 of the District Code, insofar as it applies to the District of Columbia, be repealed."

In October 1971, Kameny organized four members of the Gay Liberation Front to sue the DC Police to end the harassment under the law. The case was successful, but applied only to the four plaintiffs.

In 1974, local elections were held for a DC Council with the authority to write laws. The criminal code was not subject to changes until 1980.

A report was issued in 1975 by rape victim advocates for the reform of the sexual assault laws and the repeal of penalties against private, consensual sex. A Task Force was formed to study the reform of the criminal code. The main thrust was the reform of the sexual assault laws. Frank Kameny attended every meeting and was consulted regularly, despite not being an official member of the Task Force. Sharon Pratt Dixon served as a member. 

Based on the Task Force's work, the DC Council passed the Sexual Assault Reform bill in 1981, which modernized DC’s law on sex crimes. The bill was signed by then Mayor Marion Barry. The US Congress controls all of DC legislation; bowing to anti-gay sentiment led by Jerry Fawell in a national campaign, killed the entire bill. New legislation was introduced every year starting in 1984 but it languished in the Judiciary Committee controlled by Wilhelmina Rolark.

In February 1992, a raid on a private gay club, the Follies Theater, resulting in 14 arrests—11 on sodomy charges—sparked the gay community to focus efforts on repealing the sodomy law once again.

A separate arrest in 1992 of two men engaging in consensual sex in their car parked in DC also evoked community outrage. The two fought the law in court before a jury and essentially admitted to the act in court, but argued that they had not done anything that should be criminalized. The jury agreed and neutralized the law in their case.

A group of repeal activists from the direct action group Queer Nation turned themselves in to the police for committing sodomy in the District. The police, shocked by this action, were left scrambling for a response. They eventually took sworn statements from 3 couples who could testify that they had committed sodomy with each other. No arrests were made and no one was prosecuted.

Facing considerable public opposition to the arrests, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly ordered the police chief to stop enforcing the law against consenting adults.

An amendment to an unrelated bill to reform the law was proposed in 1992 but defeated by the DC Council.

Mayor Marion Barry’s unrelated personal and legal problems resulted in a 6-month jail term for crack cocaine possession. He had declined to run for Mayor in 1990, but in 1992 ran for City Council against Rolark. Rolark was defeated and in 1993, with a shift in committee chairs, the bill was introduced to the City Council.

Hearings on the bill lasted for nearly 9 hours without a break and were almost completely dominated by gay activists. Dr. Kameny, representing the Traditional Values Coalition of Washington, DC and the Mattachine Society, opened the hearing with strong testimony in favor of the bill. Kameny testified that sodomy should be legalized and considered "good, moral, and rewarding."

Kameny had incorporated Traditional Values Coalition in DC forcing the national anti-gay activist group to be identified as being from California where they are incorporated, significantly diminishing their impact on the locally elected officials. Most of the opposition testimony came from local Baptist ministers but they, and a Catholic official, admitted that they were most concerned about public sex which the sodomy-reform bill would not have legalized.

The reform bill, written by Kameny, stated simply "No act engaged in only by consenting persons 16 years of age or older shall constitute an offense under this section." Kameny had wanted to simultaneously repeal the adultery, fornication and similar laws, but met with opposition from DC Council members. The bill passed the Council unanimously and Mayor Sharon Pratt (Dixon) Kelly signed it in a public ceremony.

Representatives of national gay rights groups—including the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Campaign for Military Service—asked DC activists to delay sending the reform bill to Congress for approval, saying that the gays in the military fight strained their resources. The DC activists refused. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) asked the Republican leadership in the Senate not to support an amendment drafted by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and they, not wishing another fight on gay sexuality, complied, allowing the reform bill to become law.

The effort came to completion 30 years, one month, 4 days, and 11 hours after Frank Kameny first proposed the repeal, when Congress adjourned for the day at about 11 PM on September 13, 1993, and the reform bill went into effect.

The sodomy law was repealed completely in 1995 with the passage of the Sexual Assault Reform bill that finally modernized the DC criminal code.

-Bob Summersgill

Fun, First and Unique Facts

            1858     Though it was merely one part of an entire criminal code being voted on at once, a sodomy law is defeated by the voters of the District of Columbia, the first time voters said no to it.

            1897     A District of Columbia court ruled that, despite no adoptive language under District law, all common-law crimes are in effect in the District, meaning that sodomy can be prosecuted even without a sodomy law.

            1909     The earliest known published case in the U.S. in which a man solicits a police officer for sex is reported in the District of Columbia.

            1972     The District government enters into a stipulation agreement not to prosecute private, consensual sodomy.

            1981     After getting home rule from Congress, the District of Columbia Council passes a new sex offenses law that repeals the sodomy law. Congress disallows the new law with a one-house veto by the U.S. House. This is the first time that a local law was disallowed by Congress without it having violated federal supremacy. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down one-house vetoes, but Congress still repeals the District law.

Sexual Offender Registration

Robert Wilkins, Chief, Special Litigation and Programs Division of the Public Defender Service, called me today to explain his perspectives on an issue that surfaced during Tuesday’s hearing on the proposed Sexual Offender Registration Act.

The problem lies in the definition of "Registration Offense," the same area where "sodomy" was included in the draft legislation. The proposed bill says that a Registration Offense would include "conduct where the sex offender would be required to register in the jurisdiction where the offense was committed."

Mr. Wilkins says there is no Justice Department requirement that states have to register anyone who moves there is they had had to register in some other jurisdiction. In fact, he is not aware of any state that has such a sweeping provision as would be provided by this language for the D.C. law.

Mr. Wilkins says that if adopted, this language would require D.C. to register gays convicted of consensual sodomy in states where such convictions are considered registration offenses, when those people move into or work in or go to school in D.C. He says the following states consider consensual sodomy convictions a registration offense: AL, ID, KS, LA, MS, MO, OK, SC.

In addition, the proposed language would require registration in D.C. of gays convicted of other consensual sexual crimes (e.g., solicitation) wherever states consider such offenses as registration offenses. He has not had time to compile a list of such jurisdictions.

—Craig Howell, June 30, 1999

Most of the provisions which would require registration for consensual acts, including sodomy, were amended out before passage. The law was found unconstitutional in 2001.






Letters and testimony that led to the successful removal of anti-sex regulations regarding liquor licenses.

December 5, 2002 Judiciary Committee Hearing on Bill 14-636, The Elimination of Outdated Crimes Amendment Act of 2002 [Successfully led to the repeal of the adultery and fornication laws.]

January 29, 1993 Judiciary Committee Hearing on Bill 10-30, the DC Criminal Code Right to Privacy Amendment Act of 1993 [Successfully led to the reform of the sodomy law.]

Congress Overturns DC's Sodomy Law Repeal 1981


Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
PO Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013-5265

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