Homosexuality as a Crime


In this series, “Homosexuality as a:” the majority of the information and sources are from England. In the past few years coming from England has been a significant interest in masculinity, resulting in the publication of numerous articles and books, which includes new historical information on the issue of homosexuality. What is of particular importance is that unlike most of the earlier historical research on homosexuality that was conducted and published by those whom self-identify as gay/lesbian, these more recent sources of information are by historians and sociologists who do not self-identify as gay/lesbian.

“Homosexuality, and by implication homosexuals, have been placed outside prevailing social structures as defined by most theological, legal, and medical models. In Western culture, homosexual activity was first categorized as a sin. With the rise of materialism and the decline of religion, it became a transgression against the social, not the moral order: a crime.” (Bronski, Culture Clash The Making of Gay Sensibility, p. 8)

“British legislation, on close examination, was archaic and highly ambivalent in respect to any kind of homosexual category. The Buggery Act of 1553 remained the basis for legislation until 1967. Also, the infamous Criminal Law Amendment of 1885 simply made all sex acts between all males criminal, rather than indicating any kind of special legal classification. In comparison, Continental states appeared to tolerate a burgeoning scientific discourse on the matter. Legislation in these states either allowed consensual sex between male adults, or had legislative arrangements that were more tolerant than Britain. Foe instance, France had decriminalized sex between consulting adult males with the implementation of the Codes Napoleon 1805. Also, the Codes Napoleon were adopted by Italy in 1889.” (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 27)

“Contrary to what many historians claim, legislative developments in late nineteenth-century Britain did not construct a legal category of the ‘male homosexual’ or ‘all male homosexuals as a class’. Similarly, science and medicine in Britain did not construct a pathologised category of ‘the homosexual’. These disciplines distinctively eschewed attempts to develop inversion theorization and rejected Continental developments in this field. This notwithstanding, historians have emphasised that the legal-medical classification of male homosexuality prevalent in Britain in the 1950s originated in the late nineteenth century. The concept of the male homosexual pathology or normality amongst many British doctors in the 1950s can be traced to nineteenth-century developments in sex-psychology. This concept amongst British psychiatrists and a grudging acceptance of the ideas of Feud and Ellis, was a development of the years following the Second World. This book has attempted to demonstrate that the pejorative medico-legal construction of modern homosexual identities was a Continental European and North America development, stoutly resisted in Britain. Nineteenth-century British society could not contemplate permitting discussion of the phenomenon, even in pejorative terms, for fear of giving credence and admitting that the phenomenon existed among British men at all.” (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 157)

“Why at the turn of the century was it felt necessary to criminalize a type of person-the homosexual-rather than a specific acts that anyone might commit? In part because a host of commentators, fearful of the social changes associated with an increasing urbanized, bureaucratized world, had raised the cry that masculinity was at risk. Viewing their overcivilized, increasingly “feminized” world as unhealthy, such observers viewed men with “feminized tendencies” with unprecedented loathing. Self-doubts instead of confidence in short fueled the strident Victorian claims that there existed clear-cut male and female roles, to be male was assertive; to be female, passive. Inversion was determined to consist of a reversal of such roles. Therefore the homosexual, it was believed, would necessarily be effeminate and given to wearing women’s clothes; the lesbian would be mannish.” (McLaren, Angus. The Trials of Masculinity Policing Sexual Boundaries 1870-1930, p. 219)

“Until 1855 the only law dealing directly with homosexual behavior was that relating to sodomy and legally, at least, little distinction was made between sodomy between man and woman, man and beast, and man and man. This had been a capital crime from the 1530s, when the state incorporated traditional ecclesiastical sanctions into law as part of the many assumption of many of the powers of the Medieval church.” (Weeks, Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identities, p. 71 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug)

“The changing legal and ideological situations were crucial markers in this development. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act removed the death penalty for sodomy (which had not been used since the 1830s), replacing it by sentences of between ten years and life. But in 1885 the famous Labouchere Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment act made all male homosexual activities (acts of “gross undency”) punishable by up to two years in hard labor. And in 1889, the laws on importuning for “immoral purposes” were tightened and effectively applied to male homosexuals (this was clarified by the Criminal Law Amendment act of 1912 with respect to England and Wales-Scotland has different provisions). Both acts significantly extended the legal controls on male homosexuality. Though formally less severe than capital punishment for sodomy, the new legal situation probably affected a much wider circle of people. A series of sensational scandals, culminating in the trials of Oscar Wilde, drew a sharp dividing line between permissible forms of behavior, but at the same time the publicity given to these trials contributed to the new creation of male homosexual identity.” (Weeks, Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identities, p. 72-73 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug)

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