Ella Thompson v. J. C. Aldredge, Sheriff: 1939
"Sodomy . . . cannot be accomplished by two women"
by Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) 2008 by Jonathan Ned Katz. All rights reserved. Reedited by Katz from Gay American History (1976).
On January 12, 1939, the Georgia Supreme Court issued its decision in the proceeding by plaintiff Ella Thompson against Sheriff J. C. Aldredge to review an earlier adverse judgment against her in the Superior Court of Fulton County. The tantalizingly brief report of Thompson's appeal records one of the relatively rare lesbian legal cases in American history. Ella Thompson's appeal represents a courageous and unusual act of resistance against an attempt at the legal prosecution of sexual activity between two women.
Ella Thompson had been convicted in lower court on "an indictment charging her with sodomy, both participants in the act being alleged to be females." Thompson appealed, her lawyers asking that the indictment be discharged on the grounds that she "is being illegally restrained of her liberty, in that the indictment on which she was convicted was null and void.”
With all the judges concurring, Justice Grice of the Georgia Supreme Court ruled:
- This record presents the question whether the crime of sodomy, as defined by our law, can be accomplished between two women. By Code…sodomy is defined as "the carnal knowledge and connection against the order of nature, by man with man, or in the same unnatural manner with woman." Wharton, in his Criminal Law…lays down the rub that "the crime of sodomy proper can not-be accomplished between two women, though the crime of bestiality may be." We have no reason to believe that our law-makers in defining the crime of sodomy intended to give it any different meaning. Indeed the language of the Code above quoted seems to us to deliberately exclude the idea that this particular crime may be accomplished by two women, although it may be committed by two men, or a man and a woman. That the act here alleged to have been committed is just as loathsome when participated in by two women does not justify us in reading into the definition of the crime something which the lawmakers omitted.
- The petitioner's conviction was a nullity and she is entitled to be discharged.
- Judgment reversed.
This ruling established the legal precedent in Georgia that
- The crime of sodomy as defined by statute cannot be accomplished between two women.
- South Eastern Reporter… vol. 200 (Jan.-March 19391, (St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1939), p. 799-800. Legal citations: Thompson v. Aldredge, 200 S. E. 799; 187 Ga. 467.