Following the victory in Arizona, a brief look at 2,000 years of gay history

With the defeat of Arizona’s Bill-o-Bigotry, it’s a good time to reflect on the history and future of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Native Americans were fine with gay and trans people

Hundreds of years ago, when French missionaries traveled through North America, they recorded their observations of Native American culture.

Particularly fascinating to them was what physician-historian Dr. Francis Mark Mondimore described in his book A Natural History of Homosexuality as “The Berdache Phenomenon.”

This refers to transgender and gay people within Native American tribes who, far from inciting loathing, were “respected, even revered in some Indian groups.”

George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.

George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.

Enlightened western observers were rather aghast. After applying the French word “berdache” to such Indian men and women, they described them as disgusting “sodomites dedicated to nefarious practices.”

Native Americans tended to disagree. Their attitudes toward human sexuality were by stark contrast “relaxed and accepting.” Regardless of sexual preference, tribesman were treated with respect and dignity (including women who, as Mondimore puts it, enjoyed a status that was “much more egalitarian than among their European contemporaries”). Within certain groups the berdache was even revered for a “special connection with the gods and spirits.”

Clearly, the attitudes of Native American “savages,” as our ancestors dubbed them, were infinitely more progressive and civilized than Europeans of the time, and as the “religious freedom” debacle in Arizona shows, they were more civilized than those of many Americans even today.

With respect to the LGBT community, western culture often still genuflects to judgment and ostracism as opposed to compassion and acceptance. (Much debate is still had over whether one’s sexual orientation is a choice, as if that should affect how we treat gay people.) Even Native Americans, hundreds of years ago, with no access to a modern education, were above this cruelty.

And we know the Greeks and Romans had more permissive views than many today

As it turns out, a number of ancient cultures were rather tolerant as well. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans had words for homosexuality, though it was an accepted facet of both societies (reportedly, an actual “gay” identity didn’t begin to arise until the late 1800s, or later). In some ways, bisexuality was a social expectation for Greek and Roman men, within limits (Caesar was reportedly dogged by rumors that he was “gay,” to use the modern construct). It simply did not pose the same moral dilemma for them then, as it does for us now.

Isn’t it strange that while amorous or sexual relations among same-sex Spartans were encouraged (it was thought that men would fight harder beside compatriots with whom they had had intimate relations), Michael Sam’s coming out has been greeted with anxiety by many within the NFL?  The Spartans, as we know, represent the masculine warrior ideal, not unlike the spirit embodied by the game of American football. And yet primitive bigotry makes what should be a non-issue into something the NFL “isn’t ready for,” while a GOP lobbyist (who has a gay brother, no less) claims to be drafting legislation to ban gays from the sport altogether.

Jon Stewart had the final word about that during a recent segment in which he noted the violent criminal histories of several prominent NFL players, whom the league apparently is “ready for.”  A Dallas sportscaster recently noted the same.

When did ancient tolerance become modern animus?

There doesn’t seem to be a historical consensus about the reasons why the change from tolerance to animus occurred, but there is ample evidence to show when. In his insightful work Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe From the Beginning of the Christian Tradition to the Fourteenth Century, historian John Boswell dates the beginning of the transition to the end of the Roman Empire. And, perhaps surprisingly, he explicitly rejects a view to which many likely subscribe: It was not, he thinks, Christianity that fomented the tide of homophobia that came to pervade Western culture.

The reasons for Boswell’s doubts about the origins of modern homophobia are somewhat questionable; Mainly, he seems to think that criticisms by ancient church leaders of homosexuality, viewed within the context of their heedless attitudes toward other Levitical proscriptions, requires the conclusion that it was something more than religious doctrine that caused their homophobia. In other words, Boswell doesn’t think that early church leaders could be hypocritical and sincere, cherry-picking their offenses, which means Boswell probably doesn’t give the religious imagination, modern or ancient, nearly enough credit.

Regardless of the reasons, the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500AD) precipitated the widespread homophobia of the Middle Ages (an era spanning the next thousand years or so). During this period, Boswell describes a campaign of historical “whitewashing” by religious authorities aimed at purging references to homosexuality in Greek and Roman history. Some of the results are downright laughable, and are certain to remind readers of what Darwin called the “indelible stamp of [man’s] lowly origins.”

Alcibiades, son of Cleinias. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Alcibiades, son of Cleinias. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Consider, for example, the fate of Alcibiades, a known gay-lover of Socrates, when medieval Christian authorities retrospectively turned him into a “female famed for her beauty.”

In the same mirthful vein is this gem, for which I will use Boswell’s unmolested description:

In a manuscript of Ovid’s Art of Love, for example, a phrase which originally read, “A boy’s love appealed to me less” was amended by a medieval moralist to read, “A boy’s love appealed to me not at all,” and a marginal note informed the reader “Thus you may be sure that Ovid was not a sodomite.”

Use here of the word “sodomite” to degrade highlights the historical persecution embedded in Judeo-Christian tradition. That history is clear and unambiguous, even if the original reasons for the persecution are not.

Back to Arizona

Thankfully, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer took a courageous step in blocking the fanatical advance of the religious right in her state. Because of that we can all celebrate a small victory in a larger, ongoing war, which the forces of progress and human dignity seem to be winning. But where do we go from here?

In a recent Op-Ed, Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman reluctantly concluded that the Arizona “religious freedom” law, SB1062, were it to have become law, would have been constitutional. This is disturbing, but probably (I think) true. The Supreme Court has yet to hold that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, laws discriminating against sexual orientation deserve “strict scrutiny,” which is the standard of review the Court applies to racial discrimination (but strangely not gender discrimination). The present standard for discrimination against gay and trans people is called “rational basis review” –t hat is, so long as a homophobic law is “rationally related to a legitimate government interest” it will pass constitutional muster.

Needless to say, this is a highly deferential standard. With four conservative Supreme Court justices virtually guaranteed to meet the challenge of any such law, by finding both a legitimate government interest and a manner in which said law is rationally related to that interest, the fate of LGBT rights likely sits in the uncertain hands of Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last June, 2013, leading to a flurry of recent gay rights successes in a number of states.

This is all the more reason for progressives not to wait for the Supreme Court’s false pretense of interpreting the Constitution (which it has almost never done in US history) to result in equal rights for the LGBT community. Gay and trans people have waited long enough.  I would argue that we need a constitutional amendment granting not “the equal protection of the laws,” which is what the Fourteenth Amendment says, but “the protection of equal laws” for all Americans, regardless of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. This is the proper choice for a proud and free democratic nation. Patiently waiting for the unelected Supreme Court is something rather more obsequious. (I’ll likely expand on this proposal in a future article.)

With the recent striking down of Texas’ bigoted same-sex marriage ban, the veto of Arizona’s “religious freedom” bill, and the gutting of DOMA only half a year ago, America is inching ever closer (and ever more quickly) to civilization. Because the ancient Greek, Roman, and Native American cultures, among others, achieved sexual tolerance long ago, I hesitate to call these recent advances “progress.” But sometimes there is progress in regression.

David Delmar is a third-year student at Harvard Law School, with experience in both civil and criminal public interest law. His interests include law, politics, culture and society, philosophy, religion, and great fiction. David particularly likes to write about issues affecting human rights and civil liberties.

Share This Post

79 Responses to “Following the victory in Arizona, a brief look at 2,000 years of gay history”

  1. wmforr says:

    Speaking of the gender of Alcibiades:

    Iran still honors her National Poet Omar Khayyam, even though he writes in praise of wine, women, and…

    … no, actually, his English adapter Edward Fitzgerald changed the gender of all of those tavern boys whose physical features he praised.

    And of course every bisexual should know that, according to Suetonius, Julius Cæsar was known as
    omnium mulierum virum et omnium virorum mulierem — husband to every wife and wife to every husband.

  2. rose maryawn says:

    My Uncle James recently got a new black
    Mazda MAZDASPEED3 Hatchback by working at home online. you can try here

  3. Matt Rogers says:

    Totally :-)

  4. UncleBucky says:

    Yep, the core of murder starts with Paul, stays submerged until Constantine and then was institutionalized with Theodosius, as you write. And all the way from there to Pope Francis, from Constantinople to Rome to England and Scotland to the Protestant Missions in Africa, the Americas and Asia, this “meme” against “different” people or resistors of the “Catholic”/”Christian” dogma was bloodily seeded in non-western cultures.

  5. UncleBucky says:

    There are some “SINS” that don’t need a sky god. These are social sins (murder, ethnic cleaning and down the line…), sins against the Earth, and sins against beauty, the Universe, and COSMOS.

    Howzzat? :)

  6. UncleBucky says:

    Well, treating others like objects is a SIN: bullying, intimidation, using people as money sources, threats, injury, murder, ethnic cleansing, etc. All sins against LIFE or HUMANITY. Don’t need no sky god for that one! :)

  7. 4th Turning says:

    A corollary as we try to get our heads around us/russian/african/muslim/”christian” treatment of
    fellow gay human beings.
    Keep these words in mind when 12 Years a Slave and Philomena come up for awards Sunday.

    We will prove that the slaves in the United States are treated with barbarous inhumanity; that they are overworked, underfed, wretchedly clad and lodged, and have insufficient sleep; that they are often made to wear round their necks iron collars armed with prongs, to drag heavy chains and weights at their feet while working in the field, and to wear yokes, and bells, and iron horns; that they are often kept confined in the stocks day and night for weeks together, made to wear gags in their mouths for hours or days, have some of their front teeth torn out or broken off, that they may be easily detected when they run away; that they are frequently flogged with terrible severity, have red pepper rubbed into their lacerated flesh, and hot brine, spirits of turpentine, &c., poured over the gashes to increase the torture; that they are often stripped naked, their backs and limbs cut with knives, bruised and mangled by scores and hundreds of blows with the paddle, and terribly torn by the claws of cats, drawn over them by their tormentors; that they are often hunted with blood hounds and shot down like beasts, or torn in pieces by dogs; that they are often suspended by the arms and whipped and beaten till they faint, and when revived by restoratives, beaten again till they faint, and sometimes till they die; that their ears are often cut off, their eyes knocked out, their bones broken, their flesh branded with red hot irons; that they are maimed, mutilated and burned to death over slow fires. All these things, and more, and worse, we shall prove. Reader, we know whereof we affirm, we have weighed it well; more and worse WE WILL PROVE. Mark these words, and read on; we will establish all these facts by the testimony of scores and hundreds of eye witnesses, by the testimony of slaveholders in all parts of the slave states, by slaveholding members of Congress and of state legislatures, by ambassadors to foreign courts, by judges, by doctors of divinity, and clergymen of all denominations, by merchants, mechanies, lawyers and physicians, by presidents and professors in colleges and professional seminaries, by planters, overseers and drivers.

  8. 2karmanot says:

    —–Not to mention they introduced crucifixion to the natives and suffering as a path to heaven’s glory.

  9. 2karmanot says:

    :-) Dear love says it all.

  10. Matt Rogers says:

    I see you’ve linked to a medieval love poem that Waddell translated in 1927. I wonder how she would have rendered the word “friend” if she had made her translation this year.

  11. Matt Rogers says:

    Do you mean the 342 edict that a male who took on the passive role of a bride in marriage would merit the death penalty, and the 390 edict that a male “acting as a woman” with another male would be burned? That’s much different from saying that “gay men” would merit those penalties.

    I don’t know what your evidence is that the second decree was a clarification of the first. Since they were made nearly a half-century apart, I wouldn’t make that inference without a pretty clear basis. As to the 325 Nicene councils, I can’t comment on them because I don’t remember them mentioning same-sex relationships. They may have, I just don’t recall.

    I know that Southern and Payer disputed Boswell’s conclusions, with Payer arguing that Boswell had ignored a wealth of evidence. This isn’t surprising given the intense homophobia in the historical profession at the time. Not long before, some historians had even tried to de-gay Plato. In any case, Boswell’s scholarship and thoroughness exceeded those of Southern and Payer.

    Please understand what I’m saying – not that the Catholic Church was free from homophobia until the 13th century, but that homophobia in the church didn’t originate from the Bible or from within Christianity, and that the belief that homosexuality was a sin became dominant in the church much too late to be a strong biblical or historical foundation for right-wing anti-LGBT claims today. In short, sound study of Christianity is no more a basis for anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination than sound science, sound medicine, or sound jurisprudence.

  12. 4th Turning says:

    A get-over-it gesture for those few that somehow survived the measles from the drawing room subscribers to the cms who were probably miffed at their Irish servants. With the exception of Gauguin and Stevenson and us pcvs, I take a little twisted comfort in reading that Europeans never shed an article of attire even their leather shoes which caused the skin to slough off in great chunks due to jungle rot. Had they walked around barefoot on the jungle floor, natural penicillin in the leaf litter would have prevented even ingrown toenails!

  13. 2karmanot says:

    What’s that old saying? “What doesn’t kill you, makes you a Liberal.”

  14. 2karmanot says:

    Ain’t that the truth………………:-) David, however, is an excellent addition to the conversation here.

  15. 2karmanot says:

    There was not a nano bite of ‘courage’ in her decision. She got taken to the woodshed by her own party as well as major corporations. Look at her woeful history and tell me she has any reaction beyond self serving political calculation.

  16. 2karmanot says:

    Nice is a good ground rule….until you see trouble in the alley. :-)

  17. 2karmanot says:

    Clearly, your dear Mother was not a friend of Alice Roosevelt.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    Except that Brewer is innately a blow to any cause holding basic humanitarian civil rights.

  19. 2karmanot says:

    Exactly. Brewer is not courageous, unless one considers excessive sociopath narcissism a virtue.

  20. 2karmanot says:

    Welcome David! Looking forward to more!

  21. 2karmanot says:

    Very intense male friendships among clergy and monks were often beautifully expressed in Medieval literature. It is these expressions that I suspect enabled Bowell to assuage his belief that Catholic Christianity under sepcific conditions was ‘tolerant’ of ‘special spiritual friendships.”

  22. 2karmanot says:

    Post Augustus I presume.

  23. 2karmanot says:

    Perhaps Indigo was thinking of Vatican recreational facilities.

  24. 2karmanot says:

    RE doorknobs: Be aware of STD’s. footnote: the antique ones are probably safe.

  25. 2karmanot says:

    Christians also introduced starch and head- to- toe woolens to the Pacific Islands.

  26. dcinsider says:

    Maybe I should have read this before I posted :)

    Welcome David.

  27. dcinsider says:

    Can’t hurt.

  28. dcinsider says:

    My mother taught me its never wrong to say thank you. I was just suggesting that we should probably leave “courageous” to people who have actual courage. Not a word I would attach to Jan Brewer.

    Great article though.

  29. Yes, I didn’t get into it in my edits of your story, but there were all sorts of rules about what age you could be, what age your partner could be, what social status your partner could have, etc.

  30. See, there you go writing comments that deserve to be posts, again :)

  31. 4th Turning says:

    A loathing that extended across the centuries into 1830’s and 40’s Britain scandalized
    by reports of nudity and sexual practices among newly encountered “savages” in Africa
    and the “new world”. The first to be written up and viewed as ‘subhuman mongrels’ justifying
    their enslavement and the outright extermination of indigenous South American tribes by more highly evolved lily white christian caucasians.

  32. 4th Turning says:

    Perhaps traced back to Jesse Helms’ graphic depictions
    and now to the dawning of the internet age of aquarious.
    Or reinvention as posh “saunas” like in the UK?

  33. guest says:

    Read Arthur Evan’s spectacular book “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.”

  34. Stev84 says:

    “Sin” is an absurd and meaningless concept. It’s an imaginary, arbitrary offense against the laws of an imaginary deity. Hundreds of things that harm no one are “sins”. Many “sins” are thought crimes. It’s a thoroughly immoral and anti-human concept. What we need instead is an ethical system based on consent and actual harm.

  35. Stev84 says:

    It was also a matter of social standing. Someone having a relationship with a submissive slave may have been ok. After all he is a slave and doesn’t have any standing to lose. But two people of equal rank having a relationship could be a lot more problematic depending on the circumstances.

  36. David Delmar says:

    Well I guess the gavel has fallen, eh?

  37. The Amerinds were much more in tune with nature, so it is no surprise that they accepted the biological variations found in nature. If anything, genetics has shown that many different traits are necessary for survival. Genes are functioning or not functioning for a reason and susceptible to natural selection.
    Second, the Old Testament has the Jews in quite a different light than the Greeks or the Romans. As you must know, Alexander the Great preferred and deified Hephaestion and married solely for an heir. Julius Caesar was probably bisexual. The Jews considered Greeks and Romans pagans who worshiped other gods with sexual actions, often found in primitive religions. Early Christians loathed the “pagans” (country-dwellers) as well, so they would disagree and cover up earth-based practices.
    Ironically, not only is homosexuality natural, but the bigotry that it is not just proves the point. Christians started out in urban areas, away from nature, ultimately divorcing themselves from it.

  38. docsterx says:

    Here’s a brief treatment of homosexuality from the ancient
    Greco-Roman period through the present (well, 2002, when the article was
    written for The Lancet, a British medical journal. Its only 1 page
    long, but makes some interesting points, including a quote from
    Shakespeare. You (or anyone else interested) should be able to access it for free by using this
    link. If not, let me know.

  39. Indigo says:

    You might like to look into the behavior at a gay bath house. There’s fewer of them than formerly, but the potential for delightful behavior, free of Christian taboos, exists.

  40. FLL says:

    Sin is a concept of the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and in the context of American politics, that translates into Christianity. In the U.S., discrimination against sin is necessary for Christian political domination to continue, not for society to continue. Your fellow Americans outvoted you, which is bringing Christian political domination to an end. I’m sure American society will muddle through somehow—without discrimination against Christian sin and without Christian political domination. You’ve been duped by the apocalyptal rhetoric of your Christian preachers. This is not the end of the world. It’s just the end of your world. Get a hobby. Collect antique doorknobs or something.

  41. 2karmanot says:

    David, check out the history of the Benedictines—-they loved their bonfires.

  42. 2karmanot says:

    Oh yes, ‘original sin’ the greatest fraud of Christianity.

  43. BeccaM says:

    That might be your sense, but it ignores the edicts of the Nicaea councils of 325 AD, as well as the orders by Constantine in 342 AD that any man who submitted sexually to another man was to be put to death, and further clarified in 390 AD by the Christian emperors to rule that gay men were to be burned to death, in a public execution.

    Homophobia started early in the Church. And there are a number of historians including Southern, Pulchin, and Payer who found numerous instances where Boswell simply ignored the anti-gay animus of the church in the centuries leading up to the 13th.

    To suggest the Catholic Church wasn’t homophobic for most of a millennia is to ignore the historical evidence saying otherwise.

  44. BeccaM says:

    Sin as defined by who? Oh right, a genocidal bronze-age culture that, if their version of human sexuality and appropriate expression thereof was actually adopted fully, would result in the extinction of the human race in a single generation.

    What? You don’t remember Paul’s many exhortations that the best, most godly existence of all was a 100% celibate one?

    Thanks, but no.

  45. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    Come back when you’ve stopped sinning then, eh?

  46. nicho says:

    Actually sin is what has allowed society to continue. But thanks for playing.

  47. Hue-Man says:

    Especially in this context where the “expressed will of the people” is a constant theme coming from gay-hating fanatics. The only difference between a governor’s veto and a judge’s decision is that the governor was elected – both are “ignoring” the majority of the referendum voters or their legislative representatives.

    I feel myself spiraling down into Alice in Wonderland whenever someone lectures about how a majority of the public feels about any minority’s rights. Up becomes down when I remind myself that each of us, on our own regardless of all other markers, is a minority of one.

  48. Killer Social Media says:

    Discrimination against sin is necessary for society to continue.

  49. 4th Turning says:

    and then there’s this…
    “Early Christian’s objected to bathing because it was usually done in the Roman style. Much of Europe and the middle east was under the rule of the Roman empire prior to the start of the dark ages and one of the most common Roman customs throughout the conquered countries was the Roman bath house.

    These bathhouses have been found as far north as England and they typically became the central social hub of the city. If you were to travel back in time and visit one you might recognize many similarities with a modern spa but these bathhouses had other less ‘modern’ services available and this was what early Christian’s found morally objectionable. Many different reports of the available activities have come down through the ages and in the preserved city of Pompeii the bathhouse was decorated with art of so hard core pornographic a nature that for many years female tourists were not allowed in to view it. It’s no wonder then that Christian’s didn’t feel comfortable visiting such places. Unfortunately, many people did not make a distinction between bathing and Roman bathhouses. This led over time to bathing itself being viewed as immoral. There is no evidence, however, from sources such as the Bible to support this belief and thankfully it finally fell away.”

  50. Matt Rogers says:

    Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality was hailed by some as a landmark work, but criticized by others as an attempt to excuse the Christian church for its anti-LGBT atrocities.

    I didn’t find that he was trying to whitewash the church, so much as show how bogus it was to legitimize homophobia by arguing that it originated with the Bible or Christianity. He emphasized that homophobia slowly grew within the Catholic Church, but the notion that homosexuality was a sin didn’t become dominant until about the 13th century, when the Church took over the inquisitions. Suddenly, the Church needed scriptural justifications for ruthless anti-LGBT persecution that was already in progress. So, the time frame was all wrong for homophobia to be Biblical or a legitimate part of historical Christianity.

    My sense is that Boswell didn’t whitewash Church anti-LGBT persecution but described it very vividly from the time that it could be solidly associated with the Church. Before that, he saw Christian homophobia as a minority viewpoint. Indeed, Boswell included in his other book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, translations of same-sex wedding ceremonies from before the 13th century. These Church-officiated ceremonies seem inconsistent with early homophobia in the Catholic Church.

  51. Indigo says:

    I like your approach although you might be a little less trusting of your sources. It remains true of Latin culture that the stereotypical “top” protects his masculine authority by power over a submissive, but that image is often a fabricated one, not a mirror of what really happpened. That’s as true today as it was in the Victorian Era or in Ancient Athens or Rome. The double standard has a long history and remains alive and vigorous at many levels. The wags of antiquity alleged that Cicero once said of Julius Caesar that he was “Vir omnibus mulieribus atque omnibus hominibus mulier”(a man to every woman and to every man a woman).

  52. Indigo says:

    I agree that the cultural decay was well advanced in the late empire but I suggest that the introduction of Christianity into the Late empirical mix was a symptom of the collapse of Olympian values and a growing cynicism about Platonic ideals and virtue. In a word, Christianizing the empire was a gasp of despair, the humanist lamp had already gone out. The history of ideas is front-loaded with bad ideas, Christianity is just one example.

  53. David Delmar says:

    Boswell actually explains the reason for the disparity in the treatment of various homosexual acts in ancient Rome. It was based on power dynamics. For a man to perform oral sex on another man was considered submissive, as was allowing himself to be penetrated by another man. Powerful Roman men were supposed to dominate, not be dominated. Either way, most historians, especially when it comes to ancient subjects, have had their work called into question. Those of Boswell’s footnotes I examined carefully were, for the most part, not objectionable.

  54. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I wonder. I’m no historian but I’ve read a bit of Latin verse and there’s a marked difference in tone between (say) Catullus’s love poetry about his heterosexual amours and his bawdy, crude verses referring to gay sex. The sense definitely comes through that there’s something disreputable about gay sex as compared to straight sex.

    I’m going to say it: classical antiquity kind of sucked for a lot of people, especially women. That’s not to say that the advent of the Church improved matters at all, of course; but I perceive that there’s a kind of secular mythology–Carl Sagan’s Cosmos plays on this for example–that there were hundreds of years of light and learning until one day when the priests kicked in the temple doors and burned all the books and threw Europe into a black night of superstition until Galileo came along.

  55. docsterx says:

    Nice job, David. Well done and interesting from a few different perspectives.

  56. docsterx says:

    Colleen McCullough, neurophysiologist and author, did an extensively-researched series of historical novels on Roman life. She cites examples that show that homosexuality was not approved of and was punishable under Roman law. However, those with enough money or power were often exempt. Those convicted of homosexual acts could be fined or banished. Rumors of homosexuality could destroy lives and careers. Again, though those with enough clout could survive those rumors.

    If I remember, she cites a fairly extensive list of Roman historical documents from which she draws her stories. She doesn’t rely on plays for her information.

  57. BeccaM says:

    I’ve read Boswell’s work as well, and my main problem with it is he seems to want to put forth the theory that it wasn’t the rise of Christianity that resulted in the cultural adoption of anti-gay and anti-female cultural dogmas — but he offers nothing as a rational alternative explanation other than a form of, “Well, it just happened because people adopted those beliefs.” Boswell expresses his doubts, but has nothing with which to replace the obvious (and often well-documented) historical answers.

    As Rome was falling and the Dark Ages beginning, throughout Europe and parts of northern Africa and western Asia, the Catholic Church (later split into two halves) WAS the source of culture. They’re the ones who indoctrinated people to believe that homosexuality and bisexuality and gender non-conformity were evil.

    So Boswell doesn’t think the early Church leaders could be both hypocritical and sincere. Well, in this he may be correct. But he misses as well the point that there are a great many very sincere people who nonetheless are actually hypocrites. In 2000-odd years, some things about humans haven’t changed, and one of them is a tendency towards hypocrisy, especially among the classes who want to invent sins to forbid other people from engaging in, while enjoying those same sins themselves.

    He reminds me of someone who, upon knowing a family member or loved one has awful beliefs and done terrible things, goes out of his way to excuse them. I don’t think Boswell is capable of believing his beloved Roman Catholic Church engaged in atrocities and genocide, as well as the perverted repression of human sexuality and natural biology.

    Anyway, I disagree with Professor Feldman’s assessment that the Arizona law was constitutional, and it’s because — with respect, David — he seems to make the same mistake in framing that many others have made. Yes, SB1062 was written with anti-gay animus in mind. But the bill in question makes NO mention of limiting the right to discriminate base on religion to sexual orientation only.

    Many analysts more experience in law than me have pointed out that the law would permit someone to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, national origin — literally anything, and just claim it’s due to a religious belief. Don’t want to rent a hotel room to an interracial couple? Allowed. Want to refuse to sell contraceptives to an unmarried woman? Allowed. And here’s the kicker: Want to defy your employer’s anti-discrimination policy? Also allowed.

    And one of the reasons the law was written so broadly, with a wink and a nod towards the real reasons, is because directly anti-gay laws have been deemed unconstitutional, specifically Rover v. Evans. (BTW, Kennedy wrote the majority opinion on that one. I don’t think he’d so easily reverse himself and declare that LGBTs actually don’t deserve civil rights protections.)

    The 1st Amendment says that the government may make no law regarding the establishment of religion. However, decades of jurisprudence have laid the legal bedrock that the government does have the authority to restrict the exercise of religion when it is in the public interest. And also when one person’s exercise of religion infringes directly on the civil rights of others.

    I would suggest that a denial of public accommodations rights in secular business settings is a hell of an infringement.

    This is also why the ‘religious freedom’ arguments which came up in EXACTLY the same form in the 1950s and 60s were deemed inadmissible and unconstitutional when the segregationists tried to claim freedom of religion as to why the should be free to discriminate against people of color and interracial couples.

    Otherwise, if what they’re attempting really is constitutional, we might as well just surrender and let the bigots dust off their “No Coloreds or Mexicans” signs.

  58. 2karmanot says:

    Well done David!

  59. nicho says:

    Sort of OT

    Federal judge tells Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages immediately, even though KY doesn’t allow them. The state has to recognize marriages performed in other states and countries.

  60. perljammer says:

    Personally, I thought it was well said. Any time an executive vetoes a piece of legislation, it’s an act of political courage, even if the morality of the reasons behind the decision is open to question.

  61. Or the comments will cure him :)

  62. cole3244 says:

    if brewer vetoed the bill because discrimination disturbed her it would be one thing but she did it for economic reasons only.
    she and the other haters hate as much now as before and once the spotlight is turned off on this issue bigotry will raise its ugly head again eventually.

    ariz should always be in the back of our minds because the fight for equal rights there is not over by a long shot.
    belonging to the lgbt community is not a choice but being a hateful bigot is, they should be the ones being discriminated against if there really was justice in the world.

  63. I’d have to read more about that because back in the day, Boswell was a BIG deal. I’d not heard that his research was seriously called into question like that. But perhaps it was.

  64. nicho says:

    And history has totally glossed over the issue of Richard the Lion Heart having a long-term affair with Philip II of France.

  65. FLL says:

    You remind us of something that people often forget. Considering the legacy of classical antiquity, what has happened during the past century or so is not so much progress as repairing the damage of the last 1600 years of religiously fueled terror in the Western world. Victory will amount to regaining the confidence and assurance of classical antiquity, a return to what the world once had.

  66. ronbo says:

    My “Comparative Animal Behavior” biology professor took a special interest in pointing out that LGBT traits could not be selectively or genetically removed from any animal on earth. His theory was that the traits were inherently built into the animal/human condition as a way of progressing evolution. He theorized that stressful times create significantly increased number of GLBT – using stats from the Cuban Missile Crisis as his evidence. I was in my 5th month of development at the time so the research rang true.

    I expect a truly huge increase in GLBT children who were in gestation during the 9/11 attacks. May we give them a world of acceptance and accept their special talents.

  67. PeteWa says:


  68. pappyvet says:

    Brilliant piece David , thank you. Looking forward to reading more of your observations.

  69. barada says:

    Breezing thru the pages of a history book, history seems to move fast enough.

    But having to actually LIVE thru history, some agonizingly gradual changes absolutely
    make molasses seem jet-propelled.

    The wholesale rejection of gay rights by the loud minority of primitive and regressive members of society is hard to truly grasp for a Progressive person. My brain just keeps arriving at the same place, thinking, “What’s the fricking problem?”
    IMO, anti-gay passion is a mental illness. So what we are really fighting is a form of mass mental sickness that seems to want to linger and linger.
    I can’t really believe that gay rights is really a problem for the elites—But it DOES keep the political conversation away from more sensitive (to elites) economic issues.

    So for the masses, I see it as a mental health problem, and for elites it is a convenient shield against economic discussions that could lead to reform, which will cost elites money. So some elite money probably ends up supporting some anti-gay efforts.

    That’s the way I see it now.

    The Dishonest (elites) supporting the Mentally Ill (homophobe activists).

    What a pair.

  70. Jim says:

    When I was a graduate student in history, I took a seminar on the late roman empire. We discussed homosexuality pretty openly; the professor was gay himself.

    We looked at some of Boswell’s work. Boswell claimed that gay men got married and a lot more. When we looked at the citations, they were from Roman comedies and satires. I was appalled. The Romans kept all kinds of legal documents and many manuscripts from aristocratic Romans are extant. Had the Romans behaved the way Boswell suggested, there would have been evidence other than satirical works.

    This is not to say that the Romans were homophobic. It depended. If a Roman male were getting blown or fucking some man, no worries. But, if a Roman man were sucking cock, well, his peers may have referred to him derisively as penis breath. There is evidence for this.

    Boswell, as I came to find out, was plagued with one of the worst of diseases: he was devoutly christian. He was so devoutly christian he wanted to believe that christianity, both historically and philosophically, were compatible with gay sexual orientation. This dramatically influenced his work, which all of us in the seminar came to few as wishful thinking rather than good history writing.

    There is some very good gay history out there. However, I would avoid Boswell.

  71. You were feeling nice. How cute. Blogging should cure you of that in no time :)

  72. basenjilover says:

    David, there’s a book titled “The Spirit and the Flesh” by Walter L. Williams that might be of interest. It’s a book about cultural and spiritual diversity among Native Americans.

  73. nicho says:

    She did what all politicians do. Politicians recognize two things and include only two things in their calculus — money and votes. She sat down with her calculator and figured out which course would get her more net money and/or votes. The fact that we won the calculation was just luck on our part. Had the numbers gone the other way, we’d be under the bus as we speak. It’s the same method that Obama uses – along with all other pols. Praising them for the decision has absolutely no bearing on how they will decide in the future – it will still be the Don Corleone approach: Nothing personal; just business.

  74. David Delmar says:

    Honestly, it makes me laugh because my impulse was to avoid giving her credit. I was feeling nice, what can I say. :)

  75. Yeah, I might not call her courageous, though I would laud what she did. I think people need to be praised when they do what we want, even if we don’t like them, and even if we question their motives.

  76. David Delmar says:

    That’s a fair point. I figured I would concede some praise, whether deserved or not, as a form of gratitude. She was facing pressure from both sides and, in theory, could have issued a blow to the cause.

  77. And please welcome David Delmar to the blog. David is a third year law student at Harvard, and contacted me about writing on the site. He’s a great writer, and has a keen interest in history, and a lawyer’s detail for the issues, so I thought his work might make an interesting addition to the site. An, I’m always on the look out for more writers, so if anyone’s interested, please let me know :)

    So that was a roundabout way of saying: This is David’s first day, be nice ;)

  78. LOL I knew someone was gonna get him on that :)

  79. dcinsider says:

    I am not so sure I’d call Gov. Brewer courageous. She waffled to play to the wingnuts for a few days, and she made the only decision she could have made with the Super Bowl hanging over her head.

    Don’t get me wrong. I mean I’m glad she vetoed the bill. However, when a person has the option of running over me in the crosswalk or stopping before he hits me, I don’t consider him a hero for using his brakes.

© 2021 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS