LGBT History Month falls during the 50th year since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK (1967). How has sexuality been proscribed in the past? Were there times when it was more free and less stigmatised than now? Has gradual legal change affected the public perception of LGB sexuality? Have legal protections and freedoms changed its moral perception by religions? What has the public sphere even to do with the private sphere of sexuality? Will religions evolve in their treatment of LGBT+ people? Homosexuality remains criminalised in 74 nations and punishable by death in 13, mainly in religious jurisdictions.
Facebook event, discussion at Norwich Millennium Library, Tuesday 7 Feb, 6-7pm
Decriminalisation of Homosexuality
The first American state to decriminalise sodomy was Illinois in 1961. It took until 1969 for another US state – Connecticut to do the same. The 1970s-80s saw decriminalisation across the majority of the US. The 14 states that did not repeal these laws until 2003 were forced to by the landmark United States Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas.
UK Legal History and Homosexual ‘Crimes’
The last person sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for sodomy was John Spencer in July 1860, although the death sentence was never carried out. It was only 31 January 2017 when ‘Turing’s law’ posthumous pardons were issued for those prosecuted for ‘homosexual crimes’ which would now have been legal.
“Throughout the eighteenth century and up until 1861, all penetrative homosexual acts committed by men were punishable by death. Following this date, hanging was replaced by life imprisonment, and after the passage of the Labouchere Amendment in 1885, by up to two years’ incarceration. Sex between men remained illegal in parts of the United Kingdom until 1982.
The rules of evidence, however, ensured that relatively few men were actually found guilty of sodomy. Fewer still were executed. For most of this period, to prove sodomy one needed at least two eyewitnesses and evidence of both penetration and ejaculation. As a result most trials in the Proceedings are for the lesser offence of “assault with sodomitical intent” rather than for sodomy itself.” – Old Bailey trials archive
1973 saw the partial depathologisation of homosexuality but it was not until 1987 that it completely disappeared from the DSM. The concept of ego-dystonic sexual orientation still remains as a vestigial diagnosis in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
Language played its part in the 1800s.
Degeneracy became a widely acknowledged theory for homosexuality during the 1870s and 80s. It spoke to the eugenic and social Darwin theories of the late 19th Century. Benedict Augustin Morel is considered the father of degeneracy theory. His theories posit that physical, intellectual, and moral abnormalities come from disease, urban over-population, malnutrition, alcohol, and other failures of his contemporary society.
An important shift in the terminology of homosexuality was brought about by the development of psychology’s inquisition into homosexuality. “Contrary sexual feeling,” as Westphal’s phrased, and the word “homosexual” itself made their way into the Western lexicons. Homosexuality had a name aside from the ambiguous term “sodomy” and the elusive “abomination.” As Michel Foucault phrases, “the sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_history#Modern_Europe
Whilst Ancient Greece and Rome were quite liberal towards bisexuality, with the main issue being about who was the penetrator and questions of class, education and property being more important than gender, it was Christianity with its Jewish background, that changed the morals and laws of the last two millennia.