Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and input on my last post. Even though this entire series has come about through exploring my own family history, this particular print is the most personal and feels scary to blog about.
But I'll press on...
It's impossible to make any accurate comparisons between today's self-identified "gays" and the apparently homosexual people that history has recorded over the millenia, simply because the notion of "gay" or "homosexual" as we know it now didn't really exist. Yet we know that from Egypt to the Roman Empire to native America, men have loved men and women loved women as far back as historians can document. I think this fact makes it clear that, far from being "unnatural," homosexuality is a naturally-occurring human trait. Whether or not it's desirable is another matter and that is culturally defined. Many cultures, but not all, have defined homosexuality as undesirable.
In 1636 when John Alexander and Thomas Roberts appeared before the Puritan New England court, homosexual acts were called sodomy and were punishable by death. It's interesting to note, however, that the court record does not use the word sodomy in regard to these two. In their book "The Times of Their Lives," James and Patrica Deetz note that the governing officials of Plymouth rarely implemented the death penalty, which the authors attribute to their fear of overstepping their authority with England given that they had no charter.
John Alexander's punishment -- being whipped, branded with a hot iron and banished -- was severe enough. Branding was a fairly common punishment used for thieves (branded with a "T"), killers ("M" for manslaughter), and rogues ("R" for, well... rogue). I've sketched out a branding iron with an "S" for "Sodomite."
Thomas Roberts received the lighter sentence of being whipped and returned to his "master." This indicates that Roberts was an indentured servant, under contract to an employer for a fixed period of time in exchange for transportation, food, lodging etc. Since Roberts "belonged" to someone, the court was probably unwilling to interfere with his master's property rights.
Sodomy was illegal in most U.S. states until the 1960s when some states began to decriminalize it. Yet it was only 7 years ago that a Supreme Court ruling called Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws nationwide, ruling that private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the due process clause of the United States Constitution.
The 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision is what prompted Lynn and me to get engaged 12 years into our relationship. She got me a ring with a tiny diamond. We wanted to declare our intention to be married.
I didn't think it would happen in our lifetime.
My gay engagement ring