HISTORY – HOMOSEXUALITY – PART 4

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Homosexuality as a Sin

Same-sex sexual acts have a history; today they are called “homosexuality”. Before ‘homosexuality” they were called “sodomy”. In England during the reign of King Henry VIII “sodomy” became a civil offense with the passage of the buggery Act of 1533. Many authors have claimed that the model of sodomy as a sinful act was replaced by a model of the sodomite as a sexual identity in the eighteen century. In Germany in the late 1860s the transition from a religious model to a medical model for same-sex sexual acts begin. It was at this time the term “homosexual” itself was coined.

“Citing a few biblical references, theologians censured sodomy as one of the most heinous sins, whether committed by men or women. . . . In theological discourse this offense was closely tied to religious heterodoxy. One of the most common slang words for sodomite, bougre (bugger), was derived, in fact, from the twelfth-century Bulgarians, who were viewed as both heretics and deviants. The association between heresy and sodomy proved long lasting.” (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 8-9)

“Initially, sodomy was a theological construct, serving only intermittently to refer to a clear variety of sexual activity or to bring into focus the behaviour of a particular kind of person.” (Mills, “Male-Male Love and Sex in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500, p. 14 in A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages editor Matt Cook)

“Furthermore, the prevalence of homosexual conduct is attested by the fact that sodomy was regarded from early times as an ecclesiastical offence, although it did not become a felony and thus subject to ordinary criminal jurisdiction until the reign of Henry VIII.” (Hyde, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, p. 349)

“In general usage, ‘sodomy’ was not an exact term and did not merely refer to a specific sexual act. Rather, it described the whole range of homosexual behaviour, sexual or otherwise, which belonged, as one Regency pamphlet put it, to ‘the ancient lechers of Sodom and Gomorrah. This Biblical idiom was as commonplace in the nineteenth century as it had been in the previous ones. It implied that ‘sodomites’ shared both the practices and the fate of the inhabitants of that mythical city and that ‘sodomy’ represented all that was terrible, nameless and immoral about them.” (Cocks, Secrets, Crimes, and Diseases, 1800-1914, p. 111 in A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages, editor Matt Cook.)

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“Sodomy was the name, taken from the Bible, for an unmentionable sin that was defined as any lustful act which could not result in procreation within marriage. From the thirteen century, it was not only a sin, but also a capital crime. Sodomy included extramarital heterosexuality, non-vaginal sexual acts, all forms of same-sex behaviour, bestiality, masturbation and so forth. The best-known examples of persecution of sodomy were directed against males having anal sex with other males.” (Hekma, Same-sex relations among men in Europe, 1700-1990, p.79 in Sexual Cultures in Europe Themes in Sexuality editors Franz X. Eder, Lesley A. Hall, and Gert Hekma)

“Before the eighteen century, then, it was conceivable that any man or woman might engage in the unnatural act of sodomy, as part of a more generalized “bisexual” behavior. Sodomites were not fundamentally different from anyone else. They were simply sinners who engaged in a particular vice, like gamblers, drunks, adulterers, and the like.” (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 12)


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