It was fascinating to witness the shock on the Internet among theonomists and some Neo-Cals over a suggestion I made a few years ago that as a political libertarian I leaned toward the government not seeking to punish sexual perversity such as adultery, homosexuality or bestiality; that some things are better left to God to judge. My point was simply to say there is freedom for Christians to disagree on how government should enforce against these types of perversions.
When one does a little research one learns that Americans have always sought criminal enforcement when human beings are physically harmed or forced against their consent to engage in sexual related activities. But in matters of adultery, fornication, homosexuality and bestiality, that has not been the case.
Often conservatives lament how far we’ve come from the time in America when sins like sodomy and the like carried swift penalties, even the death penalty. But a look at the actually history paints a very different picture. Though laws in the colonies usually did prohibit perversions like sodomy and bestiality, rarely were these laws enforced. It seems in the U.S. there has been a libertarian zeitgeist when it comes to sexual matters; though these sexually-related sins remained on the books for a few centuries, and in some states they still remain, they were rarely, if ever, enforced.
Historians can only find five to ten instances of executions for sodomy or bestiality throughout the entire seventeenth century in the Untied States, even though the penalty for both was often death. And it was not because townspeople were unaware that there were men sleeping with other men, or being perverse with animals; the literature shows the people of a town knew something fishy was going on between Frank and Henry. But both government authorities and local people were more content to gossip about it than seek to enforce any civil penalties.
Americans in the 18th century were even less likely to enforce sodomy laws. I could find only one known case during the entire 18th century of death for sodomy – a slave named Mingo was convicted of “forcible buggery.”
As Yale historian William Eskridge notes “After the Revolution all thirteen states revoked the death penalty for sodomy convictions, although all adopted laws criminalizing anal sex (whether the recipient was male or female, adult or child, man or beast). Those laws were maintained into the nineteenth century, when they were used in cases in which the sex enacted was either violent or extremely public. Immigrants and men of African descent were most commonly charged with the crime. But the general pattern was non-enforcement. In practice police rarely enforced sodomy laws against anyone before 1880, even when such illegal activities were notorious in the community.”
Georgia is an interesting case also. Georgia did not include the sodomy laws of South Carolina (where Georgia received its charter) when Georgia received her charter in 1732. But local authorities could still punish sodomy if they desired because there was disagreement in Georgia over what laws they were really under. But there were only two known cases of punishment for sodomy, one in 1734 and the other in 1743. The first resulted in a whipping in a local settlement that was theocratic in nature; the second resulted in the death penalty. There are no other records in the colonial period of any enforcement of sodomy, and sodomy was never listed as a crime on the books until 1816, where Georgia adopted its first anti-sodomy law.
One write notes – “This sexual freedom (in Georgia) lasted into the 19th century. A criminal code adopted in 1816 included Georgia’s first sodomy law, which provided a compulsory sentence of life imprisonment at labor. For some reason, this code never was enforced.” (George Painter)
Though penalties for sodomy laws varied from state to state, records from every state reveal that few had the desire to actually enforce those laws. Maryland for example, only recorded three sodomy convictions in its first 160 years.
All this to say, in American Christendom, modern 2kers that are bent toward political libertarianism when it comes to government enforcement against sexual perversions are anything but radical. This in itself does not necessarily make the position correct. The correctness of the position will depend on one’s view of the relationship of the Bible, church and state.
But the historical evidence does reveal that those who label the libertarian view as radical need to do their historical homework, and see that both Christians and non-Christians in America, from the colonial period on, have valued privacy in these sexual matters over government involvement and punishment. It is those who would seek enforcement of actual criminal penalties, even the death penalty, for such sexual perversions as sodomy or bestiality, who would be considered unusual, or even radical, against the tradition of our nation which has historically desired as little government intrusion as possible in what they considered private sexual matters.