SODOMY LAWS HAVE BEEN active in the United States since colonial times and have been used to prosecute all types of non-procreative sexual activity. Although state sodomy laws often spell out no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual acts, in post-World War II America, the laws were disproportionately used to harass and arrest gay men. Because same-sex sexual activity was fundamentally not procreative, sodomy laws made presumptive criminals of all gay and lesbian people and justified the denial of their civil rights.
Illinois decriminalized sodomy in 1961. By 1975, only six more states had followed suit, and in 1976, the United States Supreme Court rebuffed a challenge to sodomy laws. However, the growing political clout of the gay rights movement forced increasingly rapid change in the second half of the decade. By 1979, twenty-one states had decriminalized sodomy, with another fourteen reducing the charge to a misdemeanor. By the end of the decade, 90% of the population lived under substantially decriminalized sodomy laws.
Although states resisted anti-discrimination legislation for LGBTQ people, activists at the local and federal level had more success. In 1972, San Francisco, East Lansing, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, enacted local anti-discrimination measures to protect gay and lesbian people in employment and housing. By 1977, more than forty cities and counties had implemented LGBTQ rights protections. In 1975, lawsuits such as Norton v. Macy forced the United States Civil Service Commission to drop its policy against the hiring of gay and lesbian people (except in the FBI and intelligence agencies). In 1980, the United States Office of Personnel Management banned discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all federal service jobs.