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three pairs of lovers with space



In the eighteenth century, the Netherlands was one of the countries most viciously intolerant of Greek love, with many suffering the death penalty. The laws against sodomy on which this persecution was founded were suddenly swept away in 1811, when the country's incorporation into the French Empire brought it under French law of the time, which penalised only the rape or prostitution of boys of any age.

However, an age of consent of sixteen was instituted in 1886. In the words of the “Explanatory Memorandum” given for the introduction of the new section 247 to the Penal Code, this was done to fill "a gap already long filled by the Belgian and French legislators."[1] In 1911 the age was raised to twenty-one for homosexuality,[2] only being returned to sixteen in 1971. With such a history, the social change that followed in the ensuing few years is remarkable.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Greek love came closer to being socially and legally fully tolerated in the Netherlands than it had anywhere in Europe since the triumph of Christianity in the 4th century. The comparison with just a decade earlier or later is remarkable, and even more so when compared with the English-speaking countries, where increasingly brutal suppression was already being spiced unmistakably with public hysteria.

Nothing perhaps illustrates this better than The House That Paul Built, interviews conducted in three households composed of boys living with their lovers with the knowing approval and financial support of the state.

Edgar, 11, on national Dutch radio in 1981, , in which a boy and his parents discussed the former's ongoing love affair with a man, is in a similar vein, as is Dutch policemen who understood, 1981, about the very positive attitude by the police towards a Greek love affair involving a thirteen-year-old.

Underlying all this, a report in 1980 by Eduard Brongersma, a lawyer and recently retired senator, detailed how  a broad consensus had by then been built for either reducing to twelve or abolishing the age of consent, and prosecutions for consensual sex with children of any age had consequently nearly dried up.[3] But the fruit these developments finally bore was poor and short-lived, presumably due to the aggressive influence of the public hysteria over sex involving children that had gripped the English-speaking countries well before.


[1] Quoted by Edward Brongersma in his “Meaning of Indecency with Respect to Moral Offences Involving Children” in Brit. J. Criminology 20 (1980) 23, who comments: “The Netherlands clearly did not want to stay behind, but nowhere is there expressed a special, urgent need for this penal provision, for example because of demonstrable abuses or untenable situations.” France had in the meantime, first, instituted an age of consent of 11, and then raised it to 13.

[2] To be more precise, the new section in the Penal Code, 248bis, only outlawed homosex between those over 21 and those aged between 16 and 21 (in addition to the prohibition of all sex involving those under 16).

[3] Brongersma, op. cit., pp. 20-31.