IN SOME 200 YEARS, Spain has gone from a country that imposed the death penalty for sodomy to one that legally recognizes same-sex couples. Most of this progress has taken place over the last thirty years, notably since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-1970’s. While the whole West was undergoing a “sexual revolution” during this period, Spain’s path to liberation was informed by its history as a Western country whose culture has been uniquely influenced by Islam.
The Middle Ages in Spain had the character of a chess game being played by Muslims and Christians fighting over the Iberian Peninsula. The traditional account tells us that Christian legal codes were very severe with respect to sodomy, while Muslim culture offered a more tolerant climate, one that even celebrated same-sex friendships (as in some Andalusian poetry). Since I’ll be discussing the issue of Islam and homosexuality presently, let us assume the accuracy of this account for the time being.
The 19th century saw the elimination of the death penalty for homosexual conduct (1822) and the decriminalization of homosexual acts, when a Napoleon-inspired penal code was implemented. Same-sex sexual encounters were no longer a felony, but neither was homosexuality legal. In cases of public scandal or abuse, penalties were piled on. Fast forward to the year 1954, when Franco revised the Vagrancy and Villainy Act of 1933 to include “people with homosexual tendencies” among those who could be arrested and in some cases committed to special institutions. In 1970, the Danger and Social Rehabilitation Act replaced the old law of 1933. Under the new text, those who committed homosexual acts were to be sent to rehabilitation camps. Between 1974 and 1975 alone, 152 people were committed under this law.
Iñaki Tofiño, currently working on his dissertation on African literatures in Spanish, is a leader of Inclou, a group devoted to making Catalonia’s educational system safer for GLBT students.