Massachusetts Archaic Sex Laws Have To Go
By Warren J. Blumenfeld
During "Equality Begins at Home" week (March 21-27), in which lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people throughout the country are pushing for equality
under the law, I was asked to deliver a rally speech at the City Hall in Northamton,
Massachusetts focusing on a number of archaic Massachusetts laws related to private
consensual sex between adults (some dating back to the 19th century).
I discovered that within the United States today, 5 states expressly prohibit what they
call "same-sex sodomy." An additional 14 states plus Puerto Rico have outlawed
"same-sex" as well as "other-sex sodomy." Massachusetts is one of
those states where same-sex and other-sex "sodomy" is against the law.
"Sodomy" is essentially defined as anything other than intercourse between and
man and a woman within the institution of heterosexual marriage. All else is considered
"sodomy" and is prohibited by law.
Two laws in particular currently on the books spell this out. One is Chapter 272,
Section 34 -- the so-called "Crime Against Nature" (or Sodomy) statute of the
Massachusetts Legal Code. This statute reads: "Whoever commits the abominable and
detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by
imprisonment in the state prison for not more than twenty years."
Lets look back at history for a moment. Massachusetts and many other states, as
well as the federal government, have based their judicial structures on English law. For
example, see how similar is the wording of the Massachusetts law I just referred to with
one enacted in England during the rule of King Henry VIII in 1533 under the so-called
"buggery" (or sodomy) law, which decreed a penalty of death for "the
detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast." In
England, the law decreed the punishment of death for the persons involved, as well as for
the animals, until 1861.
And in Germany in 1871, Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code read: "Unnatural
vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished
" This law was later used by Hitler and the Nazis to incarcerate
and eventually exterminate large numbers of males accused of same-sex activity.
The second Massachusetts Law, which has enormous implications for LGBT people is
Chapter 272, Section 35, referring to so-called "Unnatural and Lascivious Acts."
Anything even implying sexuality between two or more people of the same sex is termed
"unnatural and lascivious": "Whoever commits any unnatural and lascivious
act with another person shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred nor more
than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five
years or in jail or the house of correction for not more than two and one half
So what does this all mean? Well, though these state laws apply to people of all sexual
and gender identities, in reality they have been used primarily to harass, and on occasion
incarcerate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
They have been used and could be used again by the courts to justify taking children
away from LGBT parents.
They have been used and could be used again to deny us the right of becoming adoptive
and foster parents.
They have been used and could be used again to deny us the right to teach in the public
They have been used and could be used again to deny us our most basic of civil and
And they are currently being used by some conservative leaders to restrict our right to
legally marry, thus preventing us the many benefits accorded within that social
I, therefore, call on all of us, of all sexual and gender identities. We have an
opportunity to join together as allies to pressure our state legislators, as well as our
national leaders, immediately to repeal these inhumane and archaic statues. For we are all
in this together.
Warren J. Blumenfeld
Warren J. Blumenfeld is co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press),
and editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press) and the Journal of Gay,
Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity (Human Sciences Press). He is currently a doctoral
candidate in the Social Justice Education Program at the University of Massachusetts at
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