Thursday, April 26, 2007

18th Century Gay Rights

Another interesting day in the archives!

A scholar at the University of Manchester has discovered a text by one Thomas Cannon, arguing for the tolerance of homosexuality in the 18th century. The 1749 work is entitled "Ancient And Modern Pederasty Investigated And Exemplified". In England, there are actually earlier accounts of homosexual behavior, largely because sodomy was a capital offense, punishable by death until 1861. Granted, not a lot of people were actually arrested for sodomy, and in general, police have never been wont to make arrests for sodomy. But it tended to come up occasionally when families were fighting over estates. However, this is one of the first defenses of male homosexual behavior written in England, and perhaps the first such Western writing after the fall of the Roman Empire. I understand that such writings were still common in the near east until the early modern era.

Anyway, this is exciting news for people who study this sort of history, and culturally interesting as well. At the least, it should challenge the idea, strangely fashionable in recent years, that homosexual identity was a 19th century invention.


gregvw said...

You have to love the arguments that religious nutballs make when confronted with the fact that animals engage in homosexual acts and relationships.

Rufus said...

I've actually thought before how hard it would be to be a homophobic historian because basically every era in history had its gays and lesbians, and I'm guessing in about the same proportions. Or they had their 'straights' like Frederick the Great who spent all of his time camping with his soldiers and writing them mash notes. I think homosexuality is a pretty normal phenomenon. Once you accept that, I think it's pretty hard to tell people that they should spend their lives alone to make Jesus happy.