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

Virgin Islands


The Victorian Morality Period, 1873-1948

The Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 19171 and all laws of Denmark remained in force unless and until specifically changed,2 which included the Danish sodomy law.3

A new law was enacted in 19214 setting a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, with the common-law definition of the crime.5 A separate law prohibited committing an assault "with intent to commit...sodomy" with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, five more than the maximum for the completed act.6

Period Summary: The Virgin Islands, passed from Denmark to the United States, kept the Danish law until its own were adopted that reflected English influence. The new law used common-law definitions.

The Kinsey Period, 1948-1986

A new code adopted in 19577 kept the penalty the same, but abrogated common-law crimes8 and broadened the language of the statute to include oral sex.9

In a summary opinion in 1978, Government v. John,10 the District Court of the Virgin Islands upheld the sodomy law against a vagueness challenge.11

The legislature passed a new law on sex offenses in 198412 that repealed the law against sodomy13 and established an age of consent of 16.14

Period Summary: After the Model Penal Code was published, the Virgin Islands was the first U.S. jurisdiction to enact a new criminal code. Rather than follow the recommendations of the American Law Institute, the sodomy law was broadened to include oral sex and retained as a felony. It was not until 1984 that the law was repealed. In the meantime, the solitary reported case led to a ruling that "crime against nature" was not vague.

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 39 Stat. 1132, enacted Mar. 3, 1917.

2 Id. 2.

3 Virgin Islands Code Annotated, Vol. 1, (Oxford NH:Equity Publishing Co., 1967), page 22, 67.

4 Code of St. Thomas and St. John, Title IV, ch. 6, 17, enacted Mar. 17, 1921. A separate Code of St. Croix also was enacted and contained a sodomy provision in Title IV, ch. 6, 19. This code apparently is not available.

5 Code of St. Thomas and St. John, ch. 6, 17.

6 Id. ch. 5, 19.

7 Virgin Islands Code Annotated, Vol. 1, (Oxford NH:Equity Publishing Co., 1967), enacted May 16, 1957.

8 Id. at 4, 1.

9 Id. ch. 103, 2061.

10 14 V.I. 631, decided Dec. 19, 1978.

11 Referred to in the appellate case of John v. Government, 18 V.I. 3, at 4, decided Oct. 10, 1980.

12 Virgin Islands Session Laws 1984, page 342, No. 5013, enacted Oct. 18, 1984, effective Jan. 16, 1985.

13 Id. at 354, 11.

14 Id. at 346, 1709.

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