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The Netherlands  
 
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A founding member of the European Union, the Netherlands is a democratic kingdom of 16,000,000 people, located between Germany, Belgium, and England. It became an independent republic in 1581 and a kingdom in 1806. The seventeenth century was its "golden age," a period when the Dutch Republic (1581-1795) was a major international force, creating a worldwide web of economic and political relations. The Netherlands declined in the eighteenth century, but remained a colonial empire until the independence of Indonesia after World War II.

Some people consider the Netherlands the world's most tolerant society with regard to homosexuality. However, Dutch society still faces major problems when it comes to homosexual and issues.

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The Middle Ages through the Eighteenth Century

Engaging in was a capital crime in the Dutch Republic from the Middle Ages until 1811. There were rather few cases of sodomy before 1730, and most of these concerned anal intercourse between males, usually involving rape or under-aged participants. Heterosexual sodomy and bestiality were seldom prosecuted.

A woman who married another woman who presumed she was a male could be charged for attempted sodomy, when sexual relations were implied, or for fraud.

Although one might have expected greater tolerance during the years of the Enlightenment, there was in fact an obsession with sodomy during this period. Indeed, after 1730 there was a steep increase in the number of prosecutions for sodomy. Several hundred men were accused of male-male sodomy, and about 200 were executed in the eighteenth century.

However, the question of sodomy laws was debated during this period. In 1777, an anonymous tract completely devoted to the theme of the abolition of sodomy laws was published. Considerations on Punishing a Certain Infamous Crime did not endorse same-sex sexual practices. Rather, the author's argument was that it was better to prevent such asocial behavior beforehand rather than punish it afterwards. The author recommended the promotion of marriage and the co-education of boys and girls as means of discouraging same-sex vice.

In the eighteenth century, sexual "vices" such as masturbation came under attack, but at the same time many enlightened authors celebrated friendship and revered Socrates and Plato. They engaged in what has been called "The Socratic Battle," whose main topic was whether Socrates was an infamous or a celestial friend.

Both parties to the debate were clear in their rejection of sodomy and their support of same-sex friendship, but they were vague about the dynamics of the latter. They did not answer the question of how much intimacy was allowed, or what parts of the body could be touched. Same-sex lust was still a sin not to be mentioned, and this silence both prevented and encouraged homosexual practices.

In a recent book that examines same-sex sexual interests among women during this period, Myriam Everard differentiates three kinds of relationships. One involves a tradition of female friendships that were very intimate but probably chaste. The two most famous Dutch romantic friends of the eighteenth century, the writers Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken, exemplify this tradition.

In addition, however, other women passed or dressed as men and sometimes even married other women, in a transgender tradition of amazons. Finally, some women, usually from the lower class, were classified as , who enjoyed sex with both men and women. They were often involved in petty criminality and prostitution.

After the Dutch had created their replica of the French Revolution and established the "Batave Republic" in 1795, the number of prosecutions for sodomy increased again, but the severity of the punishments lessened. Some tribades were prosecuted for attempted sodomy and were imprisoned.

In 1806, Holland became a kingdom, with Napoleon's brother as king. In 1810 the French emperor incorporated the country into his empire. In 1811 Holland adopted the French legal code, which had abolished laws against sodomy in 1791. After Napoleon's defeat in 1813, and the independence of the Dutch state, there were discussions about re-enacting the sodomy laws, but they were never re-instated.

The Nineteenth Century

Thanks to Napoleon and the French, the new Kingdom of the Netherlands enjoyed a liberal nineteenth century with regard to the legal situation of same-sex sexual behavior. Homosexual activity was punished only as public indecency, or, after 1886, if it involved minors under the age of 16.

This liberalism, however, did little to remove the stigma associated with sodomy and same-sex sexual relations in general. The silence with regard to "wrong loves" (verkeerde liefhebber[ij]) may have allowed a few people to act rather freely on such desires, but the reputation for engaging in homosexual practices could have devastating social consequences for most individuals. Hence, such practices were cloaked in secrecy.

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Top: The Netherlands and neighboring countries in 2004.
Above: A portrait of Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay conservative politician assassinated in 2002. Painting by Jean Thomassen.

  
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