What's Sodomy?

The Biblical sin of Sodom wasn't homosexuality or anal sex⁠ -- it was rape⁠ , greediness and poor hospitality, and the legal basis of sodomy⁠ is not about homosexuality, but about oral and anal sex.

"Sodomy is most commonly legally defined as any contact between the genitals⁠ of one person, and the mouth or anus⁠ of another. The word has its origins in Christianity. It is sometimes used to mean sexual⁠ deviation, though in legal contexts it is defined as above. In medieval Europe, intercourse⁠ between a male field worker and a noble woman was legally considered "sodomy," as it was thought to cause a poor harvest. The history of the concept of sodomy is tied to the Church in most every case." (

The use of "sodomy" arose from the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin demonstrated in the story was not homosexuality, as it is commonly misinterpreted, but was an extreme lack of hospitality illustrated by rape: the men of Sodom attempted to sexually violate the "male" strangers Lot was harboring. It was said by the prophet Ezekiel that the sin of the city of Sodom (which was destroyed for it) was that the city was "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." (Eze.16:49,50, NIV)

The phrases "sodomy" and "sodomite" have been collectively misunderstood and the Biblical story dealing with Sodom misrepresented, and colloquially "sodomy" is instead used to mean someone who is sexually perverse, and often, someone who is gay⁠ or who engages in sex⁠ with a person of the same gender⁠ .

Accoring to minister Dr. Theodore Hayes, the full story of Sodom and Gomorrah is "included in Chapters 18-19 in Genesis, though "proofers" use only verses 1-28 of chapter 19, especially verse 5. Lot, himself a visitor in the city and upholding ancient Hebrew norms of hospitality, sought to protect God's angels from the entire male population of the city (v. 4) who wanted to "know" them (v. 5). Some translations' footnotes indicate, without evidence, this means the men were homosexual⁠ . Where does the scripture say that? Or is that really a translator bias?

"Some would have us believe that the word translated "know" means just that, without sexual connotation (Editor's Note: It should also be noted that the Hebrew word which is translated as "to know," occurs almost one thousand times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in only ten occurrences is used to indicate sexual intercourse). That would solve a multitude of problems, but the fact that Lot offered to substitute his virgin daughters (v. 8) for the men to do with as they would has a sexual meaning from my perspective. What they had in mind pure and simple was anal rape. Most people stop reading here, convinced that homosexuality was the cause of Sodom's destruction. Or was it? Consider the following: John S. Spong reports that according to ancient Middle Eastern practice, any persons away from their own tribes were totally at the mercy of the tribe they visited. A popular way to remind visiting men of their vulnerability was to force them to perform as "females" in the sex act. Nothing could be more insulting nor demonstrate more readily the power of the townspeople. The same behavior was inflicted upon the losers in battle by the victors.

Were any of the men homosexual? Possibly. But the passage does not say that "our homosexuals want to know them.'"

According to the ACLU: "Sodomy statutes generally prohibit oral and anal sex, even between consenting adults⁠ , and while most sodomy laws apply to both heterosexuals and gay people, they are primarily used to deny lesbians and gay men a range of other rights. For example, some courts have invoked sodomy laws to justify taking children away from lesbian⁠ and gay parents. Some cities have even used sodomy laws to arrest gay people for discussing sex, in conversations which parallel those heterosexuals have every day. And because even sodomy laws that legally apply to everyone are generally seen as being targeted at lesbians and gay men, they have been a potent political weapon for those who oppose equal treatment for lesbians and gay men."

For many years, the constitution allowed each state to construct their own sodomy laws. The ACLU and other groups successfully challenged several sodomy laws in state courts, arguing that their state constitutions provide greater rights than does the federal Constitution.

Then, in 2003, sodomy laws were struck down on a national level by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. The case centered on gay men who were arrested under Texas sodomy law. The men worked with Lambda Legal to challenge that same law. They argued that because the law criminalized sex between people of the same gender but not between people of different genders, it violated the Fourteenth Amendment by not offering equal protection under the law. In addition, they argued that sodomy laws violated people's right to privacy and liberty because they punished consensual sexual acts taking place within people's homes. The majority of the Supreme Court agreed with these arguments. They overruled the Texas law, along with the previous Supreme Cort decision that allowed states to decide whether to have sodomy laws in place. This decision also meant that any remaining sodomy laws were now unconsitutional.

This decision was a mjaor victory for queer⁠ rights, and remains in place in the U.S. to this day.

Similar articles and advice

  • Heather Corinna

Everyone has a sexual orientation and a sexual identity. Here are some basics and not-so-basics about what orientation is, some of the ways we can talk about it, how to figure yours out, and finding support.