Title: Brute passions! Credit: Craig Young Comment Monday 1st May 2006 - 12:00pm1146441600 Article: 1210 Rights
According to conservative Christians, lesbian and gay rights will lead 'inevitably' to intimacy with the animal kingdom. Not according to one Swedish gay researcher, however. Granted, 'sodomy' discourse isn't all that relevant to New Zealand law. When our colonial legislature imported criminal sanctions against male homosexuality, it did it in the shape of specific criminal law sanctions against male homosexuality and bestiality separately. 'Sodomy' was thus restricted to the minds of Paul Cameron and his fundamentalist acolytes down here, and died as a concept when homosexual law reform finally triumphed in 1986. For the uninitiated, 'sodomy' discourse is a distinctly premodern one that refers to anything that isn't reproductive heterosexuality, encompassing straight sex with precautions, gay sex, and bestiality. It reflected the absence of actual medical and social scientific research into lesbian and gay social identities, social networks, and desire, so what happened when pioneer sexologists did work it out? They found that there was little overlap. At the University of Stockholm, Jens Rydstrom laid out the process of change in Sweden during sixty years between the end of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth. During that period, Swedish society changed from a rural, hierarchical and fundamentalist society to an urbanised, secular and rationalist one, with some exceptions, particularly insofar as sex work, drug policy, HIV 'containment' and cruise venue permissibility are concerned. However, when it came to decriminalisation of male homosexuality, Sweden did that in 1944. It hadn't always been like that. Before 1944, the Penal Code of 1864, Chapter Eighteen, Section Ten included the usual 'anti-sodomy' references that didn't differentiate between sex between consenting male or female adults and non-consensual sex with animals.Both of the above were classified as 'sodomitical,' and would remain so until enlightenment dawned. Rydstrom decided to investigate how bestiality figured in this equation. Apparently, there is a Swedish verb that describes having carnal knowledge of a member of the animal kingdom, but it's not considered particularly complementary, as one might gather. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Richard von Krafft-Ebbing and Magnus Hirschfeld started to write about decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Germany, which permeated north of the border. In educated urban circles, homosexuality and bestiality began to draw apart as distinct sexual identities, desires and forms of sexual practice. Predictably, the countryside lagged behind, but fortunately, urbanisation overcame that inertia, and it soon became apparent that maintenance of criminal penalties for male homosexuality created more problems than it allegedly solved, and so, the Penal Code was amended, and the whole of the 'anti-sodomy' clause was dropped. Before that happened, there were a spate of prosecutions, where criminal justice authorities confirmed for themselves that gay men and male animal sexual abusers were two distinct groups. Although there was a nascent lesbian and gay rights movement, it adopted the perspective that male homosexuality was a minor form of 'unavoidable' psychopathology, and therefore, criminal law was not an appropriate forum to deal with it. In the early forties, the Swedish Parliament agreed with that prognosis. Effectively, this meant that homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality were all decriminalised. Animal sexual abusers were found to conform to their stereotype- they were largely poorly educated, intellectually impaired, aged and/or suffering from substance abuse problems, and moreover, restricted largely to inflicting their unwelcome attentions on hapless livestock and poultry in the countryside, while gay male and lesbian social networks were largely located in urban societies. Decriminalisation meant thatanimal sexual abuserswere referred to the appropriate mental health authorities, intellectual disability and alcohol and drug treatment welfare groups. So, what do we have here? As with the parallel instances of abortion and infanticide, improved abortion access was the product of urbanisation, and reduced the need for the more drastic option of infanticide that had previously prevailed in rural areas. Similarly, as Sweden urbanised, lesbian and gay communities increased, while decreased rural inhabitation meant that innocent livestock and poultry could go unmolested about their nonhuman activities. Yes, the Christian Right have got it wrong again. I don't agree with Sweden's drastic expedient of junking anti-bestiality laws altogether, given that it might perhaps be more logical to reframe bestiality as animal sexual abuse and give due recognition to the injury and trauma caused to nonhuman victims of animal sexual abuse. At the University of South Maine, Piers Bierme has written an excellent case for adjustment of anti-bestiality criminal law to reflect this. Fortunately, New Zealand didn't go the 'sodomy law' route, and the issue never arose here. In the United States, though, some benighted jurisdictions did incorporate the archaic wording into their laws, with the consequence that animals are not protected from sexual abuse now. There's a moral in that, somewhere... Recommended: Jens Rydstrom: "Sodomitical Sins are Threefold: Typologies of Bestiality, Masturbation and Homosexuality in Sweden: 1880-1950:" Journal of the History of Sexuality: 9:3: June 2000: 240-276. Jens Rydstrom: Sinners and Citizens: Bestiality and Homosexuality in Sweden: 1880-1950: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2003. Piers Beirme: "Rethinking Bestiality: Towards A Concept of Interspecies Sexual Assault": Theoretical Criminology (1997): Craig Young - 1st May 2006    
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