History of sex-based offenses: Penalties for sodomy, fornication, adultery, and cohabitation in 1964.

A 1964 Document Tallying Penalties for Sodomy and Fornication Across the United States

A 1964 Document Tallying Penalties for Sodomy and Fornication Across the United States

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 25 2015 11:44 AM

A 1964 Document Tallying Penalties for Sodomy and Fornication Across the United States

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This 1964 document, from the archives of the Mattachine Society of New York at the New York Public Library, details the legal penalties at the time for sodomy, fornication, adultery, and cohabitation in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The NYPL’s Jason Baumann hypothesizes that the document may have been distributed for discussion at the 1964 Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations, held in Washington.

The New York branch of the Mattachine Society, an early gay-rights advocacy organization, was founded in 1955. (The original society started in Los Angeles in 1951.) The mid-1960s conferences of the East Coast Homophile Organizations were one of the movement’s first gestures toward nationalizing the goals of smaller, regional homosexual-advocacy groups. As evidence of the difficulties these activists faced, the conference where this document was probably distributed had trouble finding a place to meet—hotels turned down the organizers’ requests for space.

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Illinois had eliminated its sodomy laws in 1962—the first state to do so—giving activists hope they would be able to push more states to follow suit. Baumann points out that this document includes sexual offenses that could more easily apply to heterosexual citizens as well as homosexuals: adultery, fornication, and cohabitation. Activists could use this information to show that the enforcement of sex-related “crimes” was a violation of privacy for citizens both gay and straight.

In 1966, a year after ECHO’s third and last conference, the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations broadened its reach, bringing together groups of like-minded gay rights activists to coordinate efforts. Three years later, the Stonewall uprising took gay liberation to a new, more radical level.

1SexOffenses

New York Public Library.

2SexOffenses

New York Public Library.