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Visions of SodomReligion, Homoerotic Desire, and the End of the World in England, c. 1550-1850$
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H. G. Cocks

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226438665

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226438832.001.0001

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(p.106) Chapter Four Laws
Visions of Sodom

H. G. Cocks

University of Chicago Press

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, laws against homoerotic behaviour seemed to have the sanction of scripture, time, and natural law. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God was used to justify the infliction of the capital penalty on contemporary sodomites. The laws against sodomy, which only began to be applied in a concerted form in the 1690s, appeared to accord with the Jewish law, and with natural and common law. As such they had an almost unique status in English law. They were in fact of very recent origin and their interpretation was far from agreed upon. Sodomy had only become a secular offence in 1533, and the law was very rarely enforced before the 1690s. This meant that when it began to be applied by the courts, the law was essentially improvised. This was especially true of "attempting" the crime, which became an offence in the 1690s and the subsequent basis of all future laws. Claims about the antiquity of laws against homoerotic behaviour obscured the fact that they were of recent origin.

Keywords:   criminal law, scripture, common law, Jewish law

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