As part of a new law in Australia, the word ‘sodomy’ was removed from the Criminal Code of the state of Queensland, allowing people as young as 16 to engage in sex of their choice without having to be put behind bars for it.
This is significant because of the word’s long and problematic history. Like an insect carrying a contagious illness, this word carries with it enough religious hate to infect people with its bigoted ignorance, and specifically targets gay men. You might have heard this plea from many white parents: “Stop sodomising our children.” This heavily loaded term is usually used in response to significant advances to further LGBTQ rights or anything that is even remotely queer. The term ‘sodomy’ is now used to refer to anal and oral intercourse but over history, it has been used specifically for those who engage in non-heteronormative sex that is not intended for procreation, or those who engage in bestiality or same-sex rape. Used in Western countries where Christianity is heavily prominent, the word has been legitimised over the years by books of law in order to ban all kinds of ‘unnatural’ sex. India’s Section 377 is a good example of an anti-sodomy law.
The word “sodomy” has its origins in the Old Testament of the Bible, where in the Book of Genesis (the one that talks about creationism), the oh-so-merciful God decides to basically destroy two cities called Sodom (watch out for this one) and Gomorrah. He sends two of his angels to do some quick investigation side-business, and both were invited to the house of Lot. That’s when the ‘sinful’ men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the angels be brought out to get to ‘know’ (the highly connotative keyword here that has meanings of rape attached to it).
Till date, “sodomy” carries with it an association to immoral sex, and millions of gay men have been tormented by the laws against sodomy, that accounts for even consensual non-procreative sex. The very basis of such a law in a democratic framework is problematic for one due to its direct religious connotations that imposes a certain kind of morality for everybody else to follow (separation of church and state, anybody?). Also, what it enables the state to do is control sexuality, and limit sexual expression that is beyond the norm while labelling it as unnatural. Such laws continue to closet people and ensure that they live in fear if they aren’t in line with what the state views as ‘natural’ sexual expression.
Besides its religious undertones, this term has been used as a slur against gay men and its impact in gay lives is far beyond its verbal effect. Therefore, it only makes sense that Australia has chosen to drop it from law books.
The impact of such a law in Western countries is far-fetching. Since many of them have colonised most of the world at some point in time, the respective criminal codes of the colonies in Asia and Africa have inherited these Christian hegemonic sodomy laws. The laws are a direct reflection of how an introduced religion in these colonies made way for a kind of structured homophobia that had previously never really existed in that form. Section 377 is a result of a sodomy law even if that particular word isn’t used because of the absence of predominant Christian sensibilities in South Asian colonies.
Dated ideas, religious or not, shouldn’t have a place in books that determine rule of law. Imposing a traditionalist point of view as law and jailing people over it is obviously unacceptable. And while we must continue to change laws, and wordings used in these laws, it is imperative to remember the importance of changing minds too.