Last edited: July 31, 2004


Effects of Sodomy Laws

Courts and legislatures have denied homosexuals child custody and other parental rights on the presumption of that they violate sodomy laws. Anti-gay activists as well as hostile legal opponents have charged persons with the crime of sodomy – or a willingness to persist in breaking a law on the books – in order to prove their lack of fitness to have custody over or visiting privileges for their own children.

In the well-publicized 1995 Virginia case, Bottoms v. Bottoms, Sharon Bottoms lost custody of her son Tyler to her own mother, Pamela Kay Bottoms. Even though Tyler’s father had no objections to having Sharon raise their son, Pamela Bottoms successfully invoked the sodomy laws of Virginia to prevent Sharon Bottoms from raising her own son. Pamela Bottoms cited the Virginia sodomy law to identify Sharon Bottoms as a habitual felon under the Virginia sodomy law, using the classification of Sharon Bottoms as a criminal to further object to the imagined harm that might be done to the boy as a result of his being raised by a lesbian. The child was placed in Pamela Bottoms’ custody.

Sharon Bottoms testified in her defense – and for the well being of her child – that Pamela Bottoms’ home was unfit for a child. Sharon testified that Pamela Bottom’s home had been an abusive place where Pamela’s boyfriends would regularly assault Sharon. Tyler was placed into the same environment. There was no mention of the fact that the mother had violated the Virginia cohabitation and fornication laws. An additional irony was lost on the judge: that to keep Tyler from being gay, he was being placed in the home of a woman with a history of raising a gay child.

Children in foster care are particularly vulnerable to being pulled from their homes if their parents are homosexual. In Dallas in 1998, a 3-month old boy was removed from the care of two lesbians on the basis of their criminal status: they are criminals because they are homosexual. Even though Rebecca Blesdoe, a twelve-year employee of the agency’s Child Protective Services division, was fired for her removal of the child, the child was not returned to the couple. Blesdoe had filed a grievance with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services stating that "homosexual conduct is against the law in Texas."

Also in 1998, the Arkansas sodomy law was invoked in an attempt to ban homosexuals from becoming foster parents. Despite a shortage of foster and adoptive homes the Arkansas Child Welfare Agency Review Board considered a ban on homosexuals from being foster parents. Originally, board member Robin Woodruff had introduced a proposal to ban singles and homosexuals from becoming foster parents, but withdrew the challenge against singles when she learned that it would violate Arkansas law. However, she continued to attack the fitness of homosexuals to be foster parents based on the sodomy law in that state. Even though the sodomy law was being contested, she used its presence as part of her argument, stating that "The state of Arkansas still has sodomy laws on the books. I’m aware that currently is under challenge, but right now that’s still the law. So based on that law, I believe it’s wrong to place our foster children in a homosexual home."

The Mississippi sodomy law, proscribing "unnatural intercourse," played a prominent role in denying custody of a fifteen-year-old boy to his father in Weigand v. Houghton. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on February 4, 1999 awarded custody of the boy to his mother despite the dangerous environment of her home. At one point the boy called 9-1-1 after the step-father had threatened to kill both mother and son.

Justice Charles McRae sharply criticized the 6-3 majority opinion in his dissent writing: "[t]he chancellor and majority believe a minor is best served by living in an explosive environment in which the unemployed stepfather is a convicted felon, drinker, drug-taker, adulterer, wife-beater, and child-threatener, and in which the mother has been transitory, works two jobs, and has limited time with the child. The chancellor makes such a decision despite the fact that Paul’s father has a good job, a stable home, and does all within his power to care for his son. The chancellor and majority are blinded by the fact that Paul’s father is gay."

Defining homosexuals as criminals (and often as habitual criminals) is also frequently used to justify wholesale discrimination in hiring practices. The Dallas Police Department refused to hire Mica England after she truthfully stated that she is a lesbian. The City of Dallas was forced in 1993 to rescind the policy and hire Ms. England.

In 1998, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited the Georgia sodomy law to deny a lesbian recourse to her discriminatory firing. In 1991 Attorney General Michael Bowers withdrew a job offer as a staff attorney from Robin Joy Shahar when he learned of her same-sex marriage. Earlier that summer, Shahar and her female partner were married in a private Jewish religious ceremony.

Shahar sued, but lost as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bowers’ victory in May 1998, voting 8-4 that he had not violated any of Shahar’s rights. The appeals court said it was reasonable to believe that lesbians who profess to be married to each other engage in homosexual relations in violation of Georgia law. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

This same Michael Bowers in 1986 had successfully defended the Georgia sodomy law in the United States Supreme Court. Later, Bowers was exposed as having a long-time, illegal, adulterous affair with his secretary. No charges we ever filed against Bowers for the affair, but it did come to the light as he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Georgia in 1998. In November of 1998, the Georgia sodomy law was found to be unconstitutional under the state constitution.

In 1997 Wendy Weaver was fired as a volleyball coach in Nebo, Utah, after she told students that she was a lesbian. Furthermore, she was ordered not to talk about her sexual orientation while working as a teacher. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf, claiming her first amendment rights had been violated. The Utah Attorney General’s Office attempted to have the case dismissed by invoking the Bowers decision, arguing that "The right to privacy has not been extended to matters involving homosexual relationships" and there exists no "fundamental right to engage" in same-sex behavior. State lawyers argued that the Nebo school’s decision fell within its "legitimate interest in maintaining the morale, integrity and public acceptance of the school system and in minimizing substantial disruption or interference in the normal activities of the schools..." Nevertheless, the federal court ruled in November 1998, in Weaver’s favor awarding her $1500 and lifting the gag order.


The permanent criminal class status created by sodomy laws has also allowed states to remove or threaten funding for Gay student groups. Gay and Lesbian organizations at universities in Alabama, Utah and the District of Columbia have had their funding threatened or cut off.

In Washington, DC in the mid 1980s the Lesbian and Gay People’s Alliance of The George Washington University—a private school—faced repeated complaints from an evangelical Christian student organization which claimed that LGPA promoted illegal acts under District law and therefore should not receive student funding. Although the funding was never cut off, LGPA had to face repeated obstacles to funding that other groups did not face. These challenges ended in 1993 with the reform of the District’s sodomy law.

In Alabama, the state legislature blocked all funding for gay and lesbian student organizations at state colleges in 1995. The legislators specifically used the Alabama sodomy law as justification for discriminating against the student groups.

The law, Section 16-1-28 of the Alabama’s Education Code, prohibited "any college or university from spending public funds or using public facilities ... to sanction, recognize, or support any group that promotes a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws" of Alabama.

A three- judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the law as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Utah.

Sodomy laws are even used to intimidate people testifying in public forums. Rev. Margarita Sanchez appeared before the Puerto Rico legislature in 1998 to testify on a bill and was asked if she was a lesbian.

She answered "yes," and a committee member said they could have her arrested because she was a criminal under the Commonwealth’s law banning "the crime against nature."

A sampling

Child Custody and Adoption

Employment Discrimination


Marriage Discrimination

Education Discrimination

Housing Discrimination

Civil Rights Violations



"I remember when I was a young girl, my friends were afraid to say it [that they were gay], not just because they didn't want to come out of the closet but because they didn't want to go to jail. I remember being at a party when I was a young girl that got raided because it was a gay party."
—Cher to, Nov. 5, 2000