District of Columbia
- Statute: Reformed 1993, repealed completely in 1995.
The adultery and fornication laws were repealed in 2004.
Documents Lobbying Testimony
§ 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
"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
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 DCs 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
arrests11 on sodomy chargessparked 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 Barrys 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
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 groupsincluding the Human Rights Campaign
Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Campaign for Military
Serviceasked 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.
Fun, First and Unique Facts
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.
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.
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.
District government enters into a stipulation agreement not to prosecute
private, consensual sodomy.
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
Tuesdays 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
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.
- Two Win Award for Fighting DC's Megan's Law - April 27,
- Letter to Hilda Mason: Time to Retire - December 2,
- Step Up The
Torment of Rolark - by Frank Kameny in the Washington
Blade, January 24, 1992
- When Hypocrisy Trampled Principle - by James J.
Kilpatrick, reprinted in the Congressional Record from the Washington Post, October 20, 1981
- Daschle Praises Post on Local
Control Editorial - reprinted in the Congressional Record, October 6, 1981
- The Shocking
Details of the Infamous Gesell Report (excerpt) - Congressional
Record, August 8, 1963
- Unpopular Causes - Washington
Post, August 8, 1963 [This is the first gay positive editorial in
the Post and although it doesn't mention sodomy laws, the hearing
it refers to allowed Frank Kameny to call for repeal of the DC law.]
Here We Come - Washington
Post, reprinted in the July 1961 Mattachine Review.
Original Post Publication date is not known. This details the Park
Police arresting the DC Metropolitan Police in a double entrapment sting
in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.
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
Congress Overturns DC's Sodomy Law Repeal 1981
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
PO Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013-5265
[Home] [News] [Editorials]