Sodomy Law: East New Jersey, March 1683

Sodomy punished according to its nature

After East New Jersey was sold to a group of proprietors most of whom were Quakers, its general assembly drew up a new legal code significantly differing from the earlier law of 1668. "Sodomy" was now grouped with many other crimes, ranging from swearing to murder and treason, all to be punished according to their "nature." Since sodomy, like murder and treason, was traditionally capital, the death penalty may have been assumed, although this was not specifically stated. This law may have reflected a positive desire to punish sodomy less strictly, or it may have expressed some ambivalence about penalizing it by death.(1)

A separate provision of this law specified bestiality as a capital crime, indicating that human-animal contacts were considered worse than sodomy.

The provision referring to sodomy read:

all Offenses against God, as Cursing, Swearing, Lying, Profane talking, Drunkenness, Drinking of Healths, obscene Words, Incest, Sodomy, Rapes, Adultery, Fornication and other uncleanness (not to be repeated), all Treasons, Misprisons, Murders, Duels, Felonies, Seditions, Mayhems, forceable Entries, and other Villainies to the Persons and Estates of the Inhabitants of this Province, and all Prizes, Stage-Plays, Games, Masques, Revels, Bullbaitings, Cock-fightings, which excite People to Rudeness, Cruelty, Looseness, and Irreligion shall be respectively discouraged and punished by the Judges and Courts of Justice in this Province, according to the nature and kind of the said respective Offenses.

This East New Jersey law remained in effect until East and West New Jersey were united as a single royal colony in 1702.



  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 120-21, citing Learning and Spicer (1758), pp. 227, 237-39.