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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. A crackdown on sodomy in 1730-1 was so brutal that it attracted unfavourable comment in even deeply intolerant England. 355 indictments led to eighty-two executions, including the strangling and burning of teenage boys willingly involved in sex with men.

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.

OK 38 1992 Oct
Issue 38 of OK, a Dutch magazine mostly about Greek love, which ran from 1986 to 2006

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.

"The Parents Are Clueless" is the title given to a magazine article written by a Dutch mother in 1988 and refers to other parents' ignorance of their sons' love affairs with men, compared with her own openness with and acceptance of a boysexual with whom her son had been friends for seven years, beginning when he was nine. "We've Asked Them to Be Careful" is a similar account in the same magazine by another mother whose three sons had a restrained affair with a music teacher, and "Children Choose Their Own Relationships" is a third by a foster-father with foster-sons who had had affairs with men. A Dutchwoman on her son's affair with an older boy is a published letter from the same era.

Underlying all this, a report in 1980 by Edward 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]

When already a senator, Brongersma had himself once been imprisoned for sex with a boy of 16, but had gone on to be reelected and to become not only the leading advocate of reducing the age of consent to 16, as described above, but also of Greek love in general, writing and speaking about it to respectful audiences. At the time, he was inclined to attribute the apparent success of his cause to a supposed tradition of Dutch tolerance.

All this was soon exposed as myth. The tolerance of the earliest 1980s rested in practice on ephemeral enlightenment on the part of the judiciary and the police and had no solid foundation. Once the public hysteria over sex involving children that had gripped the English-speaking countries several years earlier made its influence felt, and the Dutch police began to be trained in New York, supposed Dutch tolerance prove evanescent. The steady and severe deterioration was brought to detailed life in the novel Loving Sander by Joseph Geraci (1997).

The fruit Brongersma and others had imagined was well within their grasp proved to be poor and short-lived, consisting of no more than a overly-trumpeted law of 1991 which made some sort of complaint a prerequisite where sex with willing boys over 12 was concerned. This was meaningless in a context where the Dutch people were rapidly reverting to their early modern role of prime global exemplars of cruel bigotry towards Greek love, and was in any case rescinded in 2002 (under some influence from Great Britain as the Trojan horse of the time  for the contamination of the European Union with American ideas).

The bitter irony of the rise and fall of Brongersma's ideas was well-captured in an article, Burning the Library, which narrates his suicide, largely over despair about how everything he had fought for had come to ruin, and the destruction of his library (without historical rival in its abundant evidence of the potential beneficence of Greek love) by the Dutch authorities determined to suppress the truth in their most intolerant Calvinist tradition. In his final years, Brongersma acknowledged that the tolerance he had imagined as a national characteristic had been no more than a guilty reaction to what had happened during wartime Nazi rule and had faded away with memories of those times. More about this great man and his ideas can be read in Reminiscences of Dr. Edward Brongersma.

In the 21st century, the Dutch were to surpass even their anglophone mentors in outlawing of mere dissension with the new dominant view of Greek love.


[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, “Meaning of Indecency with Respect to Moral Offences Involving Children” in Brit. J. Criminology 20 (1980), pp. 20-31.




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