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In June 1969, the Greenwich neighbourhood of Manhattan was turned into a battleground between the police and the protesters who were sick and tired of being attacked by the police for their sexual orientation. At the frontline were the ‘queers’ the transsexual and the transgender who refused to ‘conform’ and act ‘straight’. Their week-long bloody struggle went down in history as Stonewall; the event that is considered as the foundation of modern-day gay liberation. That said, it took the United States another 34 years to achieve nation-wide decriminalisation of homosexuality which they achieved in 2003.
Billions look up to America for its deliverance of rights, but in reality, America and the Anglo-Saxon world did more damage to homosexuality for centuries before they U-turned and saw the light. Centuries ago, it was in India where sexual spectrums were tolerated and even thrived in the vast lands of the subcontinent. The philosopher Vatsyayana made his contribution to various aspects of sexuality in the verses of the Kamasutra, which were handed down to the peoples of India sometime around 400 BC and 300 AD. Vatsyayana was concerned with emotional fulfilment and enjoyment of the senses. Lamentably, for India, those lacking a finer understanding of sex and sexuality often reduce the Kamasutra to a mere set of erotic pictures and positions. By 1864, Queen Victoria – who ruled over almost half the planet – expressed her disgust at sexual promiscuity, so her entourage passed legislation to satisfy her whims even in the colonies; overnight, certain sexual practices were made illegal and punishable. Amongst many things, the law took away consensual sex between same-sex adults, and it even disqualified oral sex. Instead, sex was narrowly defined as ‘penile-vaginal’ intercourse. These laws hit India’s transgender, intersex and eunuch community, also known as hijra, the hardest, but the wider society did not seem to lose sleep over it.
Section 377 was passed in over 42 countries. Many of these countries have yet to address the sexual policing that went into this imposed legislation by the British. As a direct consequence of centuries of sexual policing, many of these countries and societies have grown violently intolerant of homosexuality. Lost in its own darkness, it would take an army of Indian lawyers and a long battle to set India free from the draconian law. In 2018, India’s highest Court handed down a judgement which defended the values of identity, choice, individuality, sexual and mental health, and the emotional fulfilment of a human being; India was finally at peace with the verses of its Kamasutra. But while India found its ray of hope, the Middle East plunged deeper into darkness. Most of these countries have further tightened the laws, while others have even introduced the death penalty for homosexuality.
The fact of the matter is that rights and freedom do not follow a linear curve and equality is not on top of our list. Before WWII, a Jewish physician and sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld, took the lead in understanding gender-variant people in Weimar Germany. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had campaigned for increased rights for the broad brush of sexuality, but his research was destroyed by the Nazis who raided his institute and shut it down. WWII may have been fought with lofty ideals, but it changed very little for gender-variant populations.
The reasons for derailment in the rights of homosexuals was systemic discrimination that was set into motion with America at the helm of the world post-WWII. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower passed Executive order 10450, prohibiting homosexuals from working in Federal government. Around the same time Senator Jo McCarthy unleashed ‘McCarthyism’, whilst crudely declaring, “If you want to be against McCarthy boys, you’ve got to be a Communist or a cocksucker”. Thus, homosexuals were driven into obscurity or forced to conform to heterosexual norms. Ironically, Russia decriminalised homosexual activity in 1993, a whole decade before the US. Yet, last month, the Russian parliament (Duma) received a bill to ban gay marriage from the Russian constitution. Russia’s rise in viciousness towards homosexuality is due to a host of reasons. Of course, the Orthodox Church is at the heart of hatred. But the packaging of the Pride into a commercial affair with corporates and big names cashing in on the rainbow flag has put Russia on the sidelines and in the driving seat of a shame campaign. However, is it fair to single out Russian treatment of homosexuals?
In reality, even the European Union declares religion as a human right, but matters pertaining to homosexuality are perceived as a cultural matter of individual nation-states. Hence, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński – leader of the ruling Law and Justice party – continue to describe LGBTQ+ activism as a “foreign imported threat to the nation”. As for the United Nations, they seem to think it is acceptable to have Saudi Arabia on the United Nations Human Rights Council knowing full-well of Sharia and its stance on homosexuals. Unsurprisingly, matters concerning sexual freedom are still not considered as a human right across the spectrums of our society.
Marriage was once defined as a union between a man and a woman. Then to suit certain men, it was defined as a union between a man and multiple women. In the past few decades, that definition has gone through a revolutionary change because marriage in some countries is now defined as a union between two men or two women. But was marriage ever meant to be about love? Or, was the fundamental purpose of marriage to start a family? Since the union typically involved children, the religious order saw the opportunity to bring marriage under their realm. In France, marriage was legalised only through the Catholic Church, and it had the supreme right to deny people the right to marry and to withhold people from the institution of marriage. When the Edict of Nantes was passed in 1685, Protestants were deprived of the possibility of marriage and were left with no choice but to get married in secret and raise their children as ‘bastards’ in the eyes of their society. Today marriage is defined as a civil matter. Therefore one can bypass the Church and get married legally irrespective of one’s religious affiliations. Yet, one can only imagine the plight of those couples when marriage was uniquely certified by the Church.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the US, over 1,138 federal rights are conferred upon married couples. These rights cover, social security, health, medicare, hospital visitation, tax benefits, pension, family leave and more. The struggle for equality and the need to organise private lives might have been achieved for heterosexuals, but there was another group of people who were kept out of the contract. Societies had organised state benefits, funding, house loans, health benefits and more for heterosexual married couples, but same-sex couples were kept out of these institutions. Many felt that homosexuality or ‘gay’ people were not looking for commitment, but were in fact against the system of conformity. This may be true for sections of the gay community, but the fact remains that many others wanted access to the security of the contract that heterosexual citizens could take for granted. Since public – and mainly religious – opinions were against calling it marriage, the ’90s saw the birth of a new contract – registered partnerships. It was the daring Danes who took the lead in legalising registered partnerships in 1996 after a 40-year campaign by gay rights activists. Members of their parliament passed the measure by a vote of 71 to 47 votes. Following their example, other countries voted some form of a registered partnership; each country had its own sense of the rights to add on or strike off ignoring the concept of equality. When laws concerning homosexuals are voted, it is useful to get the breakdown of votes because they give us the full extent of the opposition to homosexuality, homosexual relationships and their families.
The registered partnerships varied in types and degree of rights they delivered. Some did not provide hospital visitation, whereas others failed to grant the right to inheritance. Above all, adopting children legally or giving homosexuals access to procedures like artificial insemination or In vitro fertilisation remained off-limits. The first in line to raise objections were the religious groups; they put aside petty monotheism to fight the good fight. But opposition also came from unexpected quarters. For instance, even France’s sex symbol of the ’60s, Brigitte Bardot, espouses the idea that homosexuals who demand the right to marriage are simply ridiculous. Her views are shared by many who maintain that homosexuality is fine in its promiscuous form, but not in a respectable form and on the same level playing field as heterosexuality.
Despite mass opposition, France’s version of the same-sex registered partnership was voted for in 1999, but the PACS (Pacte civil de solidarité) was weaker than most other registered partnerships of the day. In the guise of equality, the PACS was made available to heterosexuals, and it was even an option for friends who wanted to run small businesses and organise their taxes. Marriage, however, remained closed to the homosexuals and no one seemed to think of it as unfair. The PACS was voted in the wee hours of the morning to avoid rioting and more protests. The vote spoke for itself; 315 députés, (members of the National Assembly) on the Left voted in favour, whereas 249 on the Right voted against. The entire Right voted against or abstained, except for Roselyne Bachelot. That very day 215 députés and 115 members of the upper house (Sénat) filed an application with France’s Constitutional Council claiming the government in power had not followed proper parliamentary procedures and that the PACS law had violated the French constitution. If this were the case in France, – a seemingly mature democracy – one can only imagine the hatred that spews over the rest of the world.
Ironically, today, France is the only country where registered partnerships are used more by heterosexuals than homosexuals. Well over 95% of those who opt for the PACS are heterosexuals looking for a stress-free exit and a tiny tax cut. The overwhelming number of heterosexuals seeking an easy exit from marriage is glaring proof of a rattled institution. Too often, people forget to address this fact when they blame homosexuality and promiscuity for the breakdown in the values of marriage. What is more, France has a rather simple definition of family. As far as the French law is concerned, one is family if one has a family register or appears in a family register. The family register or ‘le livret de famille’ is a document known to only certain European countries. It is a register or book one receives as soon as one gets married or has children. Those in registered partnerships were never allotted this book, so there was no question of treating them as family. In modern-day France, one is entitled to it even if one has children out of wedlock. In multicultural France, men with two wives were entitled to two family registers or books. Until 1993, the French authorities under the Jacques Chirac government knowingly handed out two family registers to polygamist families- mostly Muslims – but refused to recognise homosexual partnerships as families. It seemed clear; no marriage, no family book!
By the turn of the millennium, gay activists and organisations were pushing for more robust legislation, and in 2001, the decadent Dutch took the lead in legalising same-sex marriage. Shortly after, others followed suit. But the debates in Southern European countries were particularly stormy with frequent references to incest, bestiality and zoophilia. French television and radio did not lose the opportunity to air views of prominent philosophers, writers and actors who appeared on television in defence of sexual promiscuity, but many of them remained hostile to ‘normalising’ homosexuality. Finally, same-sex marriage was reluctantly picked up by the Left because by default the Left was expected to be the voice of the oppressed and the discriminated.
By 2010-11, the socialists finally scribbled same-sex marriage onto their manifesto in an attempt to appease their electorates. Thus, when François Holland won, he had little choice but to put same-sex marriage to a vote. However, elements of the Right and the larger society had barely accepted registered partnerships, so one could have anticipated the fierce opposition to same-sex marriage that ensued. The debates went on for months in parliament and unleashed homophobic attacks on the streets. On the bright side, the Church opened up to even promiscuous heterosexuals as long as they remained opposed to homosexuality, same-sex marriage or better yet, both. Same-sex marriage had liberated heterosexual promiscuity and helped them gain respectability in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
Over five million people poured onto the streets of France to express their opposition to same-sex marriage, and their ringleader was a fine lady who went by the stage name of Frigide Barjot, a pun on France’s famous sex symbol, Brigitte Bardot. Frigide Barjot had spent the better part of her life attending promiscuous gay cabarets where she had made it big as a fourth-rate singer who had become quintessential to the gay scene. She was a hard act to follow when she swirled to her lewd solo number titled Make love to me with two fingers. Equally amusing was her low-grade sense of entertainment where she rode a giant banana on stage. That was then, but now, she had found redemption in the Catholic Church and reverted to her virginal name of Virginie Merle. Frigide was the perfect melange of French hypocrisy in action, in the year of our Lord 2013. Indeed, she got her 15 minutes of fame and eventually fell into the trash heap of history, but not without revealing the new face of homophobia. Virginie Merle was proof of the fact that it was not only the astute and the conservative who claimed moral superiority and despised the homosexuals, but also the promiscuous with their deranged sense of morality who felt entitled to discriminate against homosexuals and deprive them of their fundamental rights. Homophobia had reached a new stage; one where they did not want to attack or kill homosexuals but wished for them to be on the sidelines of society, cheering for heterosexual supremacy. For the likes of Virginie Merle, homosexuality was fine as long as it was down and dirty on a fabulous Friday night, but when homosexuals wanted the same deal as the heterosexuals, the moral brigade got their knickers in a twist. It is precisely because of these outfits that even today the current LGBTQ+ movements have stolen pride from those who faced the firing line in Stonewall. Their rights have been dismissed as the desires of the deranged. Spearheading this ideology is Russia with ample support from Hungary, Poland, and vast sections of the Arab world.
The future remains uncertain for a fragmented LGBTQ+ community in a world where even the European Court in Strasbourg has failed to deliver equality. Barely a decade ago the Court ruled that states are not obliged to allow gay marriage knowing full well that gay rights are being trampled over in the absence of gay marriage. As a consequence of the Court’s rulings, the French contract for gay marriage excludes certain foreigners. If heterosexuals were denied the right to marry citizens of certain nationalities, there would be outrage, but there is a deafening silence around the inequality when it comes to gay marriage. Ultimately, equality is not engrained in our DNA. Au contraire, the human race has long thrived on differences to maintain hierarchy. From colour to sexuality, we are still struggling to achieve equality across the layers of identity. The word melanin comes from the Greek word melas, meaning dark. Although the human body has three types of melanin, the most common is eumelanin -a brown-black pigment that is responsible for colouring the human skin. Superficial skin pigmentation has been used to keep fairer skin types at the higher end of the pyramid for centuries, and elements of our society still seem to think of it as an acceptable form of stratification. While the Black lives matter movement rages across the United States and governments still want to deprive homosexuals of their rights, the real question should be; does equality really matter or has it been turned into a ruse?
- Rights for Gay Couples in Denmark, October 2 1989, The New York Times.
- Un cri dans le silence, 2003, Brigitte Bardot
- In France, Civil Unions Gain Favor Over Marriage, 15 December 2000, The New York Times.
- La polygamie résiste aux efforts de « décohabitation », 7 Mai 2005, Le Monde.
- Frigide Barjot – Fais-moi l’amour avec deux doigts, available on YouTube.
- ‘God’s nutcase’ Frigide Barjot confronts Hollande on same-sex marriage, December 27 2012, The Times
- Supreme court of India Section 377 Judgement available online
- Strasbourg court rules that states are not obliged to allow gay marriage, June 24 2010, The Guardian