Friday, May 17, 2013

The punishments and penalty of being a homosexual

The recent gains in Marriage Equality for gays and lesbians have been phenomenal. As we all know, this kind of legal recognition has not been the case throughout most of western history.  This is a good time to remember and review the dark times of being gay.

Here is a brief timeline of anti-gay laws beginning in the Common Era and primarily from Western Europe and North America. Throughout time these laws have been known under a number of different names. These laws, statutes and decrees have been called: laws against nature, unnatural acts, sodomy, buggery, the abominable, unspeakable crime, sin against nature, deviate sexual intercourse, and predatory homosexuality.

Whatever the name, the purpose of these laws and edicts were to destroy, hurt, punish, maim, imprison, and kill gay people.

314 - Council of Ancyra (now Ankara, Turkey) representing the Eastern European Church withholds the Sacraments for 15 years to unmarried men under the age of 20 who were caught in homosexual acts, and excludes the Sacraments for life if the man was married and over the age of 50.

342 - The Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans passed laws, the Theodosian Code, outlawing gay prostitution, gay marriage, and homosexuality altogether. "Death by sword" was the punishment for a "man coupling like a woman" under the Theodosian Code.

390 - Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal. Those found guilty of it are condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.

529 – The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I issued Justinian's Code ordered, persons who engaged in homosexual sex were declared contrary to nature and punishable by death, although those who were repentant could be spared. He also made homosexuals a scapegoat for problems such as "famines, earthquakes, and pestilences."

1007 - The Decretum of Burchard of Worms equated homosexual acts with other sexual transgressions, such as adultery, and argued that it should, therefore, have the same penance, which was fasting, generally.

1120 – Baldwin II of the Kingdom of Jerusalem convened the Council of Nablus to address the vices within the Kingdom. The Council calls for the burning of individuals who perpetually commit sodomy.

1232 – Pope Gregory IX began the Inquisition in the Italian City-States. Some cities called for banishment and/or amputation as punishments for first and second offending sodomites and burning for the third or habitual offenders.

1250–1300 – During a 50 year period, homosexual activity radically passed from being legal, tolerated or ignored in the most of Europe to incurring the death penalty in most European states.

1260 – In France, first-offending sodomites lost their testicles, second offenders lost their member, and third offenders were burned. Women caught in same-sex acts could be mutilated and executed as well.

1265 – Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church's great theologian and philosopher, argued that sodomy is second only to murder in the ranking of sins. His Summa Theologica, established a rational basis for anti homosexual prejudice by defining the peccata contra naturam (sins against nature) as the greatest sin of lust, because it is specifically founded upon pleasure rather than procreation. He declared that 'right reason' would always see procreation as the purpose of intercourse. His philosophical condemnation of homosexuality became the precedent for all theological and intellectual discourse upon the subject. His views are the foundation for most modern declarations against homosexual acts by the Church.

1283 – The French Civil Code dictated that convicted sodomites not only were burned but that their property was forfeited.

1290 - First mention in English common law of a punishment for homosexuality.

1307-1312 - Accusations of sodomy, witchcraft and heresy were used in the suppression of the Knights Templar, a powerful and wealthy Christian military order during the Crusades. In 1307, King Philip IV ordered the arrest of all the Knights Templar in France. Under torture, Templars confessed, which King Philip used to pressure the pope to disband the Order.  Philip’s motivation was probably financial. Threatened with military force by King Philip, Pope Clement VI dissolved the order in 1312.

1432 – In Florence the first organization specifically intended to prosecute sodomy is established. The "Officials of the Night” arrested about 15,000 men and boys, and succeeded in getting about 2,400 convicted, with most then paying fines. Many were punished by public humiliation, prison or exile.

1483 – The Spanish Inquisition begins. Sodomites were stoned, castrated, and burned. Between 1540 and 1700, more than 1,600 people were prosecuted for sodomy.

1497 – In Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella strengthened the sodomy laws that up till then applied only in the cities. An increase was made in the severity of the crime equating it to treason or heresy. The amount of evidence required for conviction was lowered and torture was permitted to extract confession. The property of the defendant was also confiscated.

1532 – Holy Roman Empire makes sodomy punishable by death. Charles V promulgated the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, which was binding for the Holy Roman Empire until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806. The Carolina stated "If any person should commit unchaste acts with an animal, a man with a man, a woman with a woman, then they have forfeited their lives, and they should be executed by fire according to common custom."

1533 - King Henry VIII of England passes the Buggery Act making buggery (anal sex) punishable by hanging.  Thomas Cromwell piloted the Buggery Act through Parliament in an effort to support Henry VIII's plan for reducing the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. The English common law proclaimed any non-procreative sexual activity, a crime including masturbation, anal, and oral sex. In 1553, Mary Tudor ascended the English throne and removed all of the laws passed by Henry VIII. Then in 1558, Elizabeth I becomes queen and reinstated the sodomy laws.

1620 - Brandenburg-Prussia criminalizes sodomy, making it punishable by death.

1624 - In the American Colonies, Virginia's 1610 code made rape, adultery, and sodomy capital offenses. Richard Cornish of Virginia is tried and hanged for sodomy. Other Southern and middle colonies (Georgia, the Carolinas, Maryland, Delaware, New York) followed the Virginia model, where sodomy –which again was not clearly defined—was a capital offense, but almost never enforced.

1636 - Plymouth colony outlaws consensual sodomy with a penalty of death.

1655 - The American colony Connecticut passes a law against sodomy including women.

1682 — Pennsylvania outlaws sodomy with a first-offense penalty of six months in jail, the first non-capital sodomy law in the English colonies. The law also covers the territory of what now is Delaware.

1700 — Pennsylvania raises the penalty for sodomy to life imprisonment for whites and death for blacks. In addition, whites can be flogged every three months during the first year of confinement and, if married, castrated and automatically divorced.

1706 – London authorities began mass purges of Molly Houses (gay bars/clubs).

1750 – In France, Jean Diot and Bruno Lenoir were the last homosexuals burned to death on July 6.

1791-1810 - Revolutionary France adopted a new penal code that no longer criminalizes sodomy. The Constituent Assembly abrogated laws criminalizing ‘crimes against nature' in 1791 when it abolished ecclesiastical courts. The Napoleonic Penal Code of 1810 criminalized ‘debauchery or corruption' of minors of either sex and ‘offenses against public decency' including sex in public places such as parks or bathrooms. However, the Code Napoléon never criminalized homosexuality. France was the first West European country to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults.

1794 – The Kingdom of Prussia abolishes the death penalty for all crimes including sodomy.  The penalty for sodomy is replaced with prison and hard labor.

1836 - The last known execution for homosexuality in Britain. John Pratt and John Smith were hanged for sodomy in front of the Newgate Prison in London.

1861 - In England, the penalty for conviction for sodomy is reduced from hanging to imprisonment.

1871 - Germany’s King Wilhelm establishes the Second Reich in 1871 that reverses the general tendency towards legalization, and adopts the harsh Prussian code for the entire nation. The anti-gay law Paragraph 175 outlawed ‘lewd and unnatural behavior' and prescribed prison sentences ranging from one day to five years.

1920 - A US House of Representatives Subcommittee of the Committee on Military Affairs approves Revisions to The Articles of War, which criminalizes sodomy. Article 93 states: "Various Crimes.--Any person subject to military law who commits manslaughter, mayhem, arson, burglary, housebreaking, robbery, larceny, embezzlement, perjury, forgery, sodomy...shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

1921 - England attempts to make lesbianism illegal with an amendment to the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act to make lesbianism an act of “gross indecency,” with the same punishments metered out to gay men. The proposal is defeated, the reason being that it was believed that few women could even comprehend that such acts existed and accepting the proposal would only draw attention to such act and therefore open them up to a new audience.

1933 - The Nazi Party bans homosexual groups. Homosexuals are sent to concentration camps.

1945 - Upon the liberation of concentration camps in Europe by Allied forces, those interned for homosexuality are not freed, but required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175. In East and West Germany as well as Britain, US, and USSR, homosexuality remained a crime.

1940s-1950s - Republican politicians charged that homosexuals had infiltrated the federal government during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and that they posed a threat to national security. They considered both communists and homosexuals to be morally weak and psychologically disturbed. They argued that communists would blackmail homosexuals into revealing state secrets. This set off a “Lavender Scare” that affected the lives of thousands of Americans.
During the Cold War, a vast apparatus of loyalty and security measures were initiated that focused on ferreting out and removing both communists and homosexuals from government positions. Civil servants described horrendous interrogations by government security officials about their sex lives. Merely associating with ‘known homosexuals' or visiting a gay bar was considered strong enough evidence for dismissal.
In 1950, a congressional committee studying the threat homosexuals posed to national security could not find a single example of a gay or lesbian civil servant who was blackmailed into revealing state secrets.

Beginning in the 1960s the tide slowly begins to shift. Countries begin to repeal anti-sodomy laws. Homosexuality starts to take on some respectability and Same-sex relationships are beginning to be recognized.

Rictor Norton, A History of Homophobia, "The Medieval Basis of Modern Law" 15 April 2002, updated 15 June 2008


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