Exonerated at last.
One of the reasons that homosexuality—or, more correctly, any orientation other than heterosexuality—is still such a taboo subject today is because it has been criminalized for so long in different countries and cultures across the world.
Though demonstrated and even prized in the most enlightened cultures since ancient times, homosexual tendencies in recent history have been chastised, made to be both morally and legally wrong, forcing millions to suffer emotional, social, and physical harm or even death.
As of August 2016, there were still 76 countries in the world where homosexuality was illegal, punishable by jail time, torture, and execution.
For centuries, such homophobic legislation—typically blanketed under sodomy laws—has restricted the power, influence, and day-to-day rights of countless men and women, often ruining lives and reputations for generations to come.
Now, one government is taking the steps necessary to right that wrong, and it’s being done in the memory of one particularly important gay man.
While homosexual relationships were common in Ancient Greece and Rome—if not necessarily due to orientation—homophobic laws go as far back as 1075 BC. Often, these laws applied only to members of the military or males who received anal sex, and they did not always affect men of higher social standing who took partners from lower classes.
Along with the spread of Christianity came more homophobia, and England passed its first sodomy laws under Henry VIII with the Buggery Act of 1533. This made sodomy and bestiality punishable by death, a law that would remain in place until 1861, even as other European powers had removed their sodomy laws by then.
Even so, it was not until 1967’s Sexual Offences Act that homosexual acts were decriminalized in the UK so long as the act was done in private and between consenting adults.
When Law Becomes Arbitrary
In many cases, however, there was one major problem with sodomy laws: What did they even mean?
Can you define sodomy? Taken from the Latin peccatum Sodomiticum meaning “the sin of Sodom,” referring to the anal sex that was said to be practiced in the eponymous Biblical city, sodomy later became a blanket term for so-called “unnatural sexual relations.”
This legal ambiguity led to a wide range of arbitrary rulings on the subject, which would ultimately condemn men for varied expressions of love and passion, mixing innocent lovers with actual criminals or sexual offenders.
The Alan Turing Law
Many people today are familiar with the fascinating yet sad story of Alan Turing, the English computer scientist, mathematician, and cryptanalyst who helped crack extremely difficult German codes during WWII that led to numerous allied victories. The 2014 Oscar-nominated movie The Imitation Game was written about him.
Though downplayed somewhat in the film, Turing was a gay man who suffered greatly towards the end of his life because of his orientation. In 1952, he was prosecuted for homosexual acts after admitting to police that he was involved in a homosexual relationship. Instead of going to prison, Turing began a treatment of chemical castration; this would ultimately leave him impotent and with enlarged breasts. In 1954, just weeks before his 42nd birthday, Turing was found dead from cyanide poisoning, which is believed to have been a suicide.
Turing is just one of many men from British history who had his reputation smeared and accomplishments downplayed because of his homosexuality, but in 2009, Turing’s family decided to fight back. Now, they’ve changed history.