Today In Gay History: Gross Indecency

8.6.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

The most miserable of birthdays to an awful law.

There's nothing quaint to this little piece of history: on this date in 1885, the British Parliament extended a pre-existing 1861 law to make all homosexual acts illegal. You see, that 1861 law, itself replacement of a 1563 edict forbidding man-on-man action, had a loophole that allowed oral sex, and a gay-panicked MP Henry Labouchere felt it had to be closed. Homosexuality was a "scourge" that had to be stopped at all costs.

The resulting law, known as the Labouchere Amendment, forbade "any act of gross indecency" between men and would end up ensnaring Oscar Wilde in 1895. Heroic codebreaker Alan Turing would find himself entangled many years later, as well. As part of his punishment for the simple fact that he was gay, Turing was chemically castrated in 1952. He killed himself 1954.

Despite the law's 1967 repeal, Turing has not yet be pardoned. Nor has Oscar Wilde had his record expunged. And the same goes for Peter Wildeblood, an author who declared his homosexuality in the face of Britain's moralistic charge.

But even after those pardons are passed — the government's increasingly supportive of the idea — Labouchere's legacy remains felt in India, Jamaica, Kenya, and other former British colonies that adopted Victorian morality with even more gusto than many Brits, and that continue to keep it alive with their own homophobic edicts.

So maybe this isn't history after all...

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