Crime against nature is an umbrella term encompassing sexual offenses that are deemed “unnatural” or "contrary to the order of nature." Some jurisdictions have codified laws against the individual offenses. For example, California originally used the term "the infamous crime against nature," to describe both sodomy and bestiality. However, this language was eventually discarded and the offenses of sodomy and sexual contact with animals were separately defined.
Other jurisdictions still commonly use the language "crime against nature.” For example, in North Carolina, any person who commits a crime against nature "with mankind or beast" is guilty of a felony. Although North Carolina's statute generally refers to the offenses of sodomy and bestiality, it is also broad enough to encompass prostitution and acts involving minors.
At common law, a crime against nature was historically synonymous with sodomy. This association of terms was particularly affected by the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas. The Court in Lawrence held that a Texas statute criminalizing intimate sexual conduct between two consenting male adults was unconstitutional as it impinged on the liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Although the Supreme Court in Lawrence struck down anti-sodomy laws, the crime against nature remains relevant. North Carolina has held that Lawrence also articulated a limit on the sexual conduct protected by the Constitution (Lawrence provided protection strictly to consenting adults). Therefore, crime against nature statutes targeting sexual conduct outside that scope (e.g., between minors or nonconsenting parties), such as North Carolina's, remain constitutional.
See e.g., Rose v. Locke, 423 U.S. 48 (1975); Cook v. Reinke, Case No. 3:09-00358-MHW (D. Idaho May. 16, 2011)
[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]