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Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861–2003—A Book by Professor William Eskridge ’78

William Eskridge ’78
Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861–2003
Viking, 2008

John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence William N. Eskridge ’78 demonstrates that there is nothing new about the political and legal obsession with the gay rights controversy. Eskridge uses sodomy law as a lens through which to examine the social history of changing sexual attitudes in America over the past two centuries.

In the book’s introduction, Eskridge writes, “A history of the crime against nature is, in some ways, a history of American sexuality and its social and legal regulation. That is, sodomy’s tale reflects the evolution of a culture that has remained ambivalent about the morality of pleasure.”

Beginning with the American colonies and early states, which prohibited sodomy as a “crime against nature,” Eskridge traces changes in American laws and attitudes through the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision. With dramatic stories of both the hunted (Walt Whitman and Margaret Mead) and the hunters (Earl Warren and J. Edgar Hoover), Dishonorable Passions reveals how American sodomy laws affected the lives of both homosexual and heterosexual Americans throughout history.