A while ago I had a discussion with some friends about homosexuality and morality. Eventually I made the comment:
Well it doesn’t directly affect you. If you didn’t know it was happening, what negative effect would it have on your life?
To this they responded something to the effect that homosexuality “degrades” the values of society and has been part of the downfall and collapse of empires and nations. It was just so obvious, they claimed, simply look at Sodom and Gomorrah or the Greek and Roman Empires!
I didn’t quite know what to say about all of this then. Frankly it was more shock than anything. But after going home I knew I could easily look into this empirical claim. They made a confident assertion about the causal relationship between social phenomena.
I decided to look it up. Specifically, I decided to, first, do a case study on the Greek/Hellenistic and Roman Empires, which they themselves claimed were ‘ruined by homosexual lusts’. I also decided to throw in Japan, so as to look at a country without the same kind of Western history or Judeo-Christian mores, as well as general ‘Global Trends’ in the past 100-200 years when homosexuality has been increasingly accepted.
The following is a brief outline of some things I found and my own little comments on them. My sources are mostly Wikipedia as well as a variety of other sites. I didn’t cite everything, but you can easily copy-paste text and search it yourself. I tried to take just concrete and objective facts and dates as measurements of acceptance of homosexuality and when they finally collapsed in part for this reason. If you challenge any of the data, notice I left something out or question interpretations, please comment below.
Hellenistic, Macedonian, Greek Civilization
Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic Renaissance:
’385 BCE Plato’s Symposium is published. Plato argues that love between males is the highest form of love and that sex with women is lustful and only for means of reproduction. Only with men, can the Greek male reach their full intellectual potential.’ Sexual intimacy was common between older mentors and younger students.
’338 BCE The Sacred Band of Thebes, an undefeated elite battalion made up of one hundred and fifty gay couples, is destroyed by the forces of Philip II of Macedon who bemoans their loss and praises their honor.’
’326 BCE Gay/bisexual military leader Alexander the Great completes conquest of most of the then known Western world, converting millions of people to the gay-friendly Hellenistic culture and launching the Hellenistic Age.’
End of the Hellenistic Age and Greek/Macedonian Empire:
‘Ends with the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC with the sacking of Corinth by the Roman Lucius Mummius’
Notes on the Greek/Hellenistic Empire:
Plato is the teacher of Aristotle who was Alexander the Great’s, one of the most world famous homosexuals of history, tutor. Alex the Great then went on to conquer the known world and set up the precursor to the Roman Empire, see next section. Homosexuals, bisexual’s and those who supported such had major roles in founding and creating the best of Hellenistic civilization, which lasted for centuries afterword.
The Roman Empire
Acceptance of Homosexuality in Roman Empire:
“146 BCE – Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.”
“27 BCE – The Roman Empire begins with the reign of Augustus. The first recorded same sex marriages occur during this period. The Roman Empire is a time in which art and literature depict homosexual love in a positive light. Romans, like the Greeks, celebrated love and sex amongst men. Two Roman Emperors publicly married men, some had gay lovers themselves, and homosexual prostitution was taxed.”
“98 – Trajan, one of the most beloved of Roman emperors, begins his reign. Trajan was well known for his homosexuality and fondness for young males. This was used to advantage by the king of Edessa, Abgarus, who, after incurring the anger of Trajan for some misdeed, sent his handsome young son to make his apologies, thereby obtaining pardon.”
“130 – Emperor Hadrian’s beloved Antinous drowns in the Nile, and upon Hadrian’s death, Antinous was deified. He is actually the last non-imperial human to be deified”
“218 – The emperor Elagabalus begins his reign. He married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, in a lavish public ceremony at Rome”
End of Homosexual Acceptance in Roman Empire:
“305- 306 Council of Elvira (now Granada, Spain). This council was representative of the Western European Church and among other things, it barred homosexuals the right to Communion.”
“313 Emperor Constantine declares the Empire as Christian.”
“314 Council of Ancyra (now Ankara, Turkey). This council was representative of the Eastern European Church and it excluded the Sacraments for 15 years for unmarried men under the age of 20 who were caught in homosexual acts and excluded the man for life if he was married and over the age of 50.”
“342 – The first Roman law against homosexual marriage was promulgated by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans.”
End of Roman Empire:
“476 – The traditional date of the fall of the Roman Empire is September 4, 476 when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire was deposed by Odoacer.”
Other Dates for ‘End of Roman Empire’:
“378 – the Battle of Adrianople in 378,”
“395 – the death of Theodosius I (the last time the Roman Empire was politically unified),”
“406 – the crossing of the Rhine by Germanic tribes after the withdrawal of the troops in order to defend Italy against Alaric I.”
“408 – the death of Stilicho, followed by the disintegration of the western army,”
“410 – the Sack of Rome, the first time in almost 800 years that the city of Rome had fallen to a foreign enemy.”
“565 – The death of Justinian I, the last Roman Emperor who tried to re-conquer the west.”
Notes on the Roman Empire
The Hellenistic Empire’s art, culture, philosophy and religion flowed into that of the Roman Empire. As you can see homosexuality was widely accepted from its beginning up until Emperor Constantine when the Empire was formally converted to Christianity. With the new religion, after nearly 600 plus years with a culture that was pro-homosexual, homosexuality is discouraged and outlawed. The Empire then only lasts another 173-260 years, depending on which dates you want to use. This may seem like a lot, but remember that this is Rome’s ‘Age of Decline’. It lasted for centuries more, but in a weaker and weaker state.
It appears to be clear that Rome’s rise corresponded with more liberal positions on homosexuality and its stricter anti-homosexual stance corresponded to its disintegration. If anything, this indicates that acceptance of homosexuality is needed for a society to flourish.
The Acceptance of Homosexuality in Japan:
“Unlike the West, in Japan sex was not viewed in terms of morality, but rather in terms of pleasure, social position, and social responsibility. While modern attitudes to homosexuality have changed, this is frequently true even today. Like the pre-modern West, only sexual acts were seen as being homosexual or heterosexual, not the people performing such acts.”
While homosexuality had never been viewed as a ‘sin’ in Japanese society and religion, ‘sodomy’ was restricted by legal prohibition in 1873. This was done mostly to emulate Western laws. The provision was then repealed seven years later by the Penal Code of 1880.
“Japan has no laws against homosexual activity, and has some legal protections for gay individuals. In addition, there are some legal protections for transgender individuals. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex is legal, but some prefectures set the age of consent for same-sex sexual activity higher than for opposite-sex sexual activity. While civil rights laws do not extend to protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, some governments have enacted such laws. The government of Tokyo has passed laws that ban discrimination in employment based on sexual identity.”
The Japanese Empire and Progress:
I don’t think I have to do any research to convince anyone that Japanese culture is highly sophisticated and that the Japanese economy is on par with the West.
Notes on Japan:
Japan never included homosexuality in its list of moral no-no’s. It outlawed homosexuality for a few years merely to appease Western powers. Yet it has been a central economic, cultural, political powerhouse around the world. Even after being demolished in WWII it only took a few years to recover.
Like Greece and Rome, homosexuality in Japan has never been considered as a moral abomination and the acceptance of it has not correlated at all with economic or social disintegration.
Countries and Dates of Decriminalization of Homosexuality in the 1800s:
1791 France; 1795 Luxemburg and Tuscany; 1811 Netherlands; 1813 Bavaria; 1830 Brazil; 1871 Guatemala and Mexico; 1880 Japan; 1886 Argentina; 1889 Italy
Countries and Dates in 1900/2000s:
Decriminalisation: 1922 USSR; 1924 Panama, Paraguay and Peru; 1932 Poland; 1933 Denmark and Philippines; 1934 Uruguay; 1940 Iceland; 1942 Switzerland; 1944 Switzerland and Suriname; 1945 Portugal; 1951 Greece; 1956 Thailand; 1961 Czechoslovakia and Hungary; 1962 1st US State (Illinois); 1963 Israel; 1969 Canada; 1967 England, Wales, and Chad; 1968 Bulgaria; 1970 Kosovo; 1971 Austria, Costa Rica and Finland; 1972 Norway; 1977 Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia; 1979 Cuba and Spain; 1980 Scotland; 1981 Columbia; 1986 New Zealand; 1988 Belize and Israel; 1989 Liechtenstein; 1990 Jersey; 1991 Bahamas, Hong Kong and Ukraine; 1992 Estonia and Latvia; 1993 Belarus, Gibraltar, Lithuania and Russia; 1994 Bermuda, Serbia and South Africa; 1995 Albania and Moldavia; 1996 Romania and Macedonia; 1998 Bosnia/Herzegovina, Chile, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Cyprus; 2000 Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Gabon; 2003 Armenia; 2004 Cape Verde and Marshal Islands; 2005 Uganda; 2008 Nicaragua and Panama;
Notable US Dates
1974 1st open Homosexual in US pub office; 1983 1st openly Homosexual member of US Congress; 1984 Berkeley, Cal. 1st US city to ensure health benefit to Homosexuals; 1992 WHO removes homosexuality from the ICD-10 (its official list of diseases); 1995 the Human Rights Campaign (US NGO) adds homosexual rights to their agenda; 2000 Vermont 1st US state with Civil Unions; Currently several US states plus DC recognize same sex marriages with a number of other recognizing domestic partnership.
I did not list all of the rest of the US states. Also I did not list countries that never criminalized homosexuality in the first place. Mostly those that didn’t were countries where Christianity was never part of the culture (like Japan). I could not find a list of those which were never criminalized.
Notable World Trends During the Period of Increasing Global Homosexual Acceptance:
1) Increased Peace: no wars have ever been fought between democracies (barring skirmishes in Georgia and Russia, though both can be argued aren’t actually democratic nor had an actual war).
2) World infant mortality rate declined from 126 in 1960 to 57 in 2001.
3) All but two countries are now identified as democratic. In the 1940 to the present the number of countries scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale (1.0-10.0), a widely used measure of democracy, jumps from 7 to 65.
4) Literacy rates for 2008 of the 192 countries of the world according to the UN Development Program’s Human Devo Report listed 49 countries having above 99% literacy rates, 15 more above 97%, 32 more above 96%, 37 more above 90% and the bottom 26 countries on the list ranging from 22-59% literate.
For comparison, in England in 1841, then the world power, 40% had to sign contracts with a ‘general mark’ because they could not even write their own name.
5) Life expectancy today is 77 years worldwide. Life expectancy in the US in 1900 was 47 years and in India was 32.
Notes on Global Trends:
The global trends are as clear as can be. Policy towards homosexuality has been overwhelming liberal with increasing acceptance in the past 100-200 years. During this same time almost all indicators concerning quality of life and civilizational ‘advancement’, instead of decline, have shown vast improvement.
In other words, acceptance of homosexuality in fact correlates with the strengthening of the social fabric.
Paul Chiariello (Chief Editor, Rutgers & Yale University) Paul Chiariello graduated from Rutgers in 2009 after studying Philosophy and Anthropology and has been running around the world ever since. Currently he is on the Board of Directors of the Rutgers Humanist Community, Co-founder of the Yale Humanist Community, and Director of the Humanism & Philosophy Curriculum for Camp Quest, Inc. Paul has a MSc in Comparative Education from Oxford, completing his field research in Bosnia on ethno-religious identity and conflict, and has spent a year studying philosophy of ethics and religion at Yale on a PhD fellowship. He has also worked with research organizations at the UN and in DC, as well as schools abroad in Uganda, Kenya, India, Indonesia and Germany.