Western rulers imposed anti-gay laws throughout world
Lavender & red, part 112
Published Sep 27, 2007 11:08 PM
Wherever class-divided societies overturned matrilineal communal groupings,
laws began to punish sexualities, gender expressions and bodies that did not
fit the new patriarchal family models. The status of women, who had played a
pivotal role in pre-class societies where the blood line was traced through
females, not males, was degraded with the ascendancy of patriarchal class
The ruling class mandated adherence to a father-dominated family unit, rather
than the ancient mother-right gens, because it assured the transmission of
wealth to male heirs.
As ruling classes grew stronger and expanded their territories by overthrowing
neighboring communal societies by force of arms, they violently enforced their
legal codes and social order on militarily conquered peoples.
European ruling classes, however, exported and enforced laws against same-sex
love all over the world as they established their colonial empires. European
colonialism used Inquisition terror to enforce these laws against same-sex love
and sex/gender variance all over the world. This violent legal restructuring of
Indigenous societies—which affected economic organization, kinship,
family/community organization, sexualities, gender and sex roles—served
enslavement, exploitation and oppression.
These Indigenous societies under siege were diverse. For instance, the Gay
American Indians History Project, first published in the germinal 1988 book
“Living the Spirit,” lists 135 Indigenous peoples on the North
American continent who made room for many more sex/gender roles than the
European nations did.
Midnight Sun (Anishnabe) provides a historical materialist view of sex/gender
systems in these varied Native societies in one of the book’s essays.
Entitled “Sex/Gender Systems in Native North America,” it explains:
“Social, and specifically sexual, life is embedded in the economic
organization of society—an organization that gives rise to a variety of
cultural forms. The cultural construction of gender and sexuality must be seen
in terms of the sexual division of labor, subsistence patterns, social
relations, and male-female relations. Within this context, ideology is not an
arbitrary, discrete force—rather, it serves to reproduce and perpetuate
social forms, behaviors, and individuals suitable to a particular mode of
The roots of Abu-Ghraib
European colonialism exported its domestic, counter-revolutionary Inquisition
around the world, starting with Portuguese expansionism around 1500 C.E. The
early epoch of direct colonial rule reached its zenith more than three
centuries later with British domination of India in 1857.
Queer Heritage reports that in 1551, “Portuguese missionary Father Pero
Correia, writing from Brazil, asserts that same-sex eroticism among indigenous
women is quite common, in fact as widespread as in Africa, where he was
previously stationed. Native Brazilian women, he observes, carry weapons and
even form same-sex marriages.”
In 1646, Portuguese colonial overlords expanded their laws against
same-sexuality to include females, as well as males. The sentence was being
burned alive at the stake.
Max Mejía states that with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the
Western hemisphere, “An absolutist discourse enveloped homosexuality in
the concepts of ‘infamous sin,’ ‘sin against nature,’
corruption of the soul and alliance with the devil. They punished the practice
without distinctions, among both lay people and clerics.
“Furthermore,” Mejía concludes, “the conquerors treated
‘sodomy’ as a special Indian sin and hunted it down and punished it
as such on a grand scale. They orchestrated crusades like the Holy Inquisition,
which began burning sodomites at the stake as a special occasion, as in the
memorable auto-da-fé of San Lázaro in Mexico City.”
During Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s colonial expedition across
Panama he “saw men dressed like women; Balboa learnt that they were
sodomites and threw the king and 40 others to be eaten by his dogs, a fine
action of an honorable and Catholic Spaniard.”
The Spanish colonial authorities in Cuba castrated those they considered
“sodomites,” and forced them to eat their own testicles coated with
When the Spaniards invaded the Antilles and Louisiana, “they found men
dressed as women who were respected by their societies. Thinking they were
hermaphrodites, or homosexuals, they slew them.”
Wealthy Dutch merchants imposed pre-Napoleonic Roman-Dutch common law, which
criminalized “sodomy” and “unnatural sex offenses,”
from Indonesia to South Africa.
The colonial legislation that the Dutch merchants brought with them to the Cape
of Africa in the 17th century still forms the basis of laws in Namibia,
Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
Sun never set on British anti-sodomy laws
The British imposed on the people of Ireland a 1634 law that made same-sex
relations between males punishable by death. Later, the 1885 British
Labouchère Amendment was the law under which feminine homosexual writer
Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labor.
Laws criminalizing same-sex relations in India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei all have the same
name—“Article 377”—because the same colonial power
wrote the law: Britain. The colonial-drafted legislation is misleadingly named
the “Indian Penal Code.” Hindu law had not punished consensual
Historian Douglas Sanders explains: “Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code
of 1860 made ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ an
The British imposed this legislation in the Straits Settlements of Singapore,
Penang and Malaca in 1872. By the late 19th century, Britain also enforced the
law in Hong Kong, Fiji, the Malay Peninsula and Burma.
Korea Herald journalist Benjamin Jhoty quotes Utopia-asia.com, which offers
information about the same-sexuality scene in Asia: “Asia has rich and
unique homosexual traditions almost everywhere you look. The true enemy of
homosexuality in places like Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the
Philippines are antique colonial laws and homophobic non-Asian religions that
bully citizens with skewed views of the natural world.”
Sanders notes, “This provision, or something very close to it, is
presently in force in all former British colonies in Asia with the exception of
Hong Kong.” He adds: “Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Papua New Guinea
have the key wording from 377, but different article numbers. Parallel wording
appears in the criminal laws of many of the former colonies in
Historians Kevin Botha and Edwin Cameron write, “The systems of law the
colonial powers (both Dutch and later English) introduced significantly
influenced the customary law of the African communities they
The British “Queensland Penal Code” of 1899 was “adopted in
Northern Nigeria in the nineteenth century, later becoming the basis for a
uniform federal code in Nigeria in 1916. The Indian Penal Code had been used in
Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, but those laws were later replaced by drafts based
on the Nigerian criminal code. Sudan used the Indian Penal Code. In 1960
Northern Nigeria enacted a separate criminal code, based on the Sudan
Similar laws were forced on “British” Honduras (today Belize),
Jamaica, Anguilla, the “British” Virgin Islands, the Cayman
Islands, Montserrat, Bahamas, Tobago, Turks and Caicos, and St. Lucia.
The British also imposed anti-“sodomy” legislation on Canada in
1892, New Zealand a year later, and Australia in 1788 and again in 1899.
Capital offense in colonized North America
Civil liberties historian Tom Head explained: “As
Spanish, French, Dutch, and English colonists began to settle North America
during the 17th century, they brought with them a catalog of highly specific
laws proscribing various sexual acts. The purpose of all of these laws was to
enforce monogamous, same-race, heterosexual marriage as a mandatory
institution, and to punish any and all sexual activity outside of that
The earliest anti-“sodomy” legislation was passed in the Virginia
Colony on May 24, 1610, and soon spread to all the colonies, and later to all
of the states.
Historian John D’Emilio wrote: “In every colony, sodomy was a
capital offense—at least five men were executed during this era—and
other homosexual acts, from ‘sodomitical practices’ to lewdness
between women, were punished with whippings and fines.
“After the American Revolution, although the states reformed their
criminal codes in the spirit of Enlightenment philosophy, revision of the
sodomy statutes and the ‘crimes against nature’ laws came very
slowly; North Carolina did not eliminate capital punishment until 1869. Thomas
Jefferson proposed that death be replaced by castration. Moreover, as time
went on, legislatures and courts broadened the statutes to include a wider
range of acts, such as oral sex between men and sexual activity between
women,” D’Emilio concluded.
In the U.S., anti-homosexual and anti-miscegenation law was also a weapon of
state repression against African and Native peoples, who became internal
colonies. In 1898, U.S. imperialists also brutally enforced these laws in
countries they subjugated militarily.
After seizing Puerto Rico as a colony in 1898, the U.S. imposed a law against
same-sex love on the island that was a carbon copy of the California state
legal language. And in 1938, under U.S. domination, the Cuban Penal
Code—the “Public Ostentation Law”—was enacted.
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