Virginia Sodomy Laws Challenged


Judge Robert Merhige (right) meets US Senate candidate John Warner and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Credit ML

The excitement and push for change and organizing continued for the lesbian and gay community in 1975 as well. The Richmond Lesbian Feminists (RLF) was founded and the sodomy laws in Virginia were challenged. In “Doe v. Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond,” the sodomy laws were upheld. This decision was summarily affirmed by the US Supreme Court.

It should be noted that Judge Robert Merhige issued a dissenting opinion in the case which stated that “private consensual sex acts between adults are matters, absent evidence that they are harmful, in which the state has no legitimate interest.[1] The Virginia law is still "on the books." The General Assembly has never repealed these laws which were declared unconstitutional nationwide by the US Supreme Court decision in “Lawrence and Gardner v. Texas” in 2003. The “Crimes against Nature” law (18.2-361) states: “ If any person carnally knows in any manner any brute animal, or carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony…"[2]

It should be noted that the sodomy law is nonspecific and applies equally to men and women, gay and straight, but historically the law has been used primarily to prosecute gay men. It has also been used in family court cases, often to justify denying custody of a child to his/her biological parent who was LGBT. One high profile case was the case of Sharon Bottoms in the early 1990s where Sharon Bottom's mother sued for and won custody of Sharon's son, in part arguing that since Sharon was a lesbian it was exposing the child to illegal and immoral behavior.


  1. Beth Marschak and Alex Lorch, Lesbian and Gay Richmond, Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. p. 47
  2., accessed 3/29/10