Last edited: August 10, 2004

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 This remained unchanged until, after obtaining home rule, a new criminal code of 1983 repealed the law.

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.

3 Id.

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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