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Homosexuality and Crime - Western Traditions

church christian centuries sexual

The roots of the political and philosophical traditions of the West are in a society deeply affirmative of homosexual relations of the mentoracolyte model. Indeed, most of the heroes of ancient Greek mythology had male lovers; the founding of political democracy is attributed to the male couple Harmodias and Aristogeiton, who slew the tyrant Hyppias in 514 B.C.E. (Halperin; Foucault). And Socrates, in unexpurgated translations of the Symposium, rhapsodizes about how the love of youths leads to the love of beauty and thus to the love of wisdom. Yet the modern Western tradition has suppressed, denied, and appropriated this homoerotic heritage consigning it to sin, sickness, or crime. The gradual shaping and consolidation of Christian doctrines into the canon law of the Western church articulated by medieval theologians, and the propagation and enforcement of these views by the Roman Catholic Church from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries and onward replaced the heroic friendships valued by the ancients with the idea of the sodomite ( Jordan, 1997). Like the traditions it suppressed, the sodomite cannot simply be equated with modern ideas of the homosexual. In ecclesiastical law sodomy typically referred to a vague, sometimes comprehensive category of sexual practices that lack pro-natal objectives, including, for example, nonreproductive heterosexual acts and bestiality, as well as homosexual practices. The consolidation of church power through the first millennium of the Christian era included the gradual eradication of indigenous, European forms of sexual friendship (Boswell). By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, sodomy became a charge pursued in the West by the Inquisition, with varying degrees of rigor in different countries, along with the church's campaign to suppress Jews, witches, and other forms of religious nonconformity. In the sixteenth through twentieth centuries, Christian orthodoxies, imposed by military conquest on indigenous populations of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, actively extinguished local forms of homosexuality as part of larger campaigns of cultural colonialism, or forced these local forms underground (Trexler; Bleys). The conceptualization of homosexuality as a sinful, nonreproductive sexual act became widely established where governments and empires acted in concert with institutional churches to enforce cultural and juridical dominion over much of the world's population in the Christian realm.

As nation-states emerged from empires in the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, many of them formalized their criminal codes from the legacy of canon law, depending on the social ingredients that went into state formation and their relation to church control. Nation-states might be thought of as places where particular social groups defined by capital, race, language, religion, gender, and sexuality forge hegemony over a territory (Corrigan and Sayer). These groups institutionalize their own cultures as national cultures, thereby generating a range of subordinated and minority groups who must fend for themselves in an alien world. With the rise of nation-states in the context of a Eurocentric, Christian, modern world-system, the modern conception of homosexuality has emerged, a sexual act attributed to a class of people subject to social sanction and criminal penalty (Adam, 1995; Stychin). As the world economy mobilized masses of people in cities, and as states devised more efficient systems of supervising, regulating, and policing their populations, homosexual men (and later women) began to be affected by the criminal justice systems of Europe. From the early example of the fifteenth century Venetian Republic, to eighteenth-century campaigns to catch and suppress organized sodomy—that is, the nascent gay world—in Britain, Holland, and Switzerland, state agencies (and at least in Britain, Societies for the Reformation of Morals, as well) swept up hundreds of men and some women in their punitive nets. The Dutch campaign alone resulted in seventy executions. The legacy of this nexus of church and state building has been the disciplining of same-sex eroticism, the categorization of its adherents as a people apart, and the invention of homosexuality as a juridical and medical category.

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