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Policing sex and marriage in the American military: The court-martial and the construction of gender and sexual deviance, 1950-1975

Kellie Wilson Buford, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


From 1950 to 1975 while the American military contained communism abroad by deploying troops and nuclear weapons to key posts around the world, the military justice system, under the newly instituted Uniform Code of Military Justice, waged a legal assault against all forms of sexual deviance that supposedly threatened the moral fiber of the military community and the nation. Endorsing traditional gender roles for husbands and wives within the safe confines of heterosexual, monogamous, and racially homogenous marriage was the primary means by which the post-war military created and enforced these widely accepted concepts of moral and sexual deviance. The courts enforced this marital ideal by criminalizing adultery and bigamy, same-sex sodomy and `unnatural' sexual relations, service men's consummation of marriages to non-American women in host countries without command approval, pornographic consumption, prostitution and pandering, indecent exposure, and window peeping. Prosecution rates for these crimes more than quintupled in the last quarter of the twentieth century, revealing the growing importance of sex and marriage to the Armed Forces' operations. Ultimately, the courts' construction and criminalization of sexual deviance during the second half of the twentieth century was part of the military's ongoing production of gender ideology, which drove changing constructions of deviance and justice.

Subject Area

American history|International Relations|Military history|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Buford, Kellie Wilson, "Policing sex and marriage in the American military: The court-martial and the construction of gender and sexual deviance, 1950-1975" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3616794.