As science moved from acts to identities, so too did the public consciousness and, very quickly, the law. In England, consensual male-male sex was first prohibited by the Buggery Act of 1533. Plenty of sources will cite it as the first British anti-homosexual law, although of course it wasn’t anything of the sort. It was, however, one of the earliest anti-sodomy laws passed by any Germanic country (previously the only laws concerning sex had prohibited adultery), and it outlawed specifically “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” The penalty was death.
But what was buggery? And how could it be committed “with mankind or beast”? A succession of trials pertaining to arrests under the Act eventually fixed “buggery” in a legal sense as anal intercourse with ejaculation (male-male, or male-female), or intercourse with an animal. As such, if you were a young man attracted to other young men in Tudor England, you were perfectly safe under the law providing you didn’t indulge in anal sex (and the requirement of the prosecution to evidence ejaculation enabled more than one pair of lovers to escape with their lives, even after they were arrested and tried). Later, men were often tried instead for “attempted sodomy,” a crime which was easier to prove and carried a lesser sentence on paper, although depending on the mood of the crowd, standing in the pillory could be a death sentence of its own. (more…)