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Capitalism and gays

By John Passant - posted Friday, 1 August 2008

In the coming week or so there will be demonstrations around Australia for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians and for their right to adopt children.

Many people will attend out of a sense of fairness: a sense that that any person, irrespective of sexual orientation, should have equal rights with others.

But we need to go further and understand the roots of homophobia in our society to begin to see how to overcome this deep seated reaction.


The forces against gay marriage are numerous. Half a million of them were in Sydney a few weeks ago.

But it would be a mistake to attribute anti-gay sentiment to religion alone. Certainly many religious groups (but not all) have taken up the cudgels of anti-homosexual propaganda as their power and influence over society has weakened.

Historically it is not even the case that the rise of Christianity coincided with the rise of anti-same sex laws.

The decline of the power of the Roman Empire (before Constantine converted to Christianity) saw it begin to tax its own citizens to save itself. Prior to this decline the wealth of the Empire had been built solely on slaves.

As its own citizens became part of the exploited classes through taxation, the Emperors enacted laws banning all sexual activity (not just same sex activity) that did not lead to procreation. Anal sex, homosexuality, bestiality were all non-productive and so were banned. The thinking was that by doing this there would be more Roman citizens to exploit.

This is precisely the thinking that led the ruling elite under capitalism to attack homosexuality. Indeed the word homosexuality was not known until the late 19th century when the anti-same sex campaign reached full expression.


Why then?

Capitalism had waged a long campaign to drive peasants off the land and into the factories in the cities. But for capitalism to continue, it needs its next generation of workers. The family provides the perfect solution for the employing class to bring that about.

A stereotypical family - male breadwinner, with wife and children as chattels - creates that future group of workers, at little cost to those who benefit, the bosses. The cost is borne by the bread winner and more immediately his wife.

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About the Author

John Passant is a Canberra writer ( and member of Socialist Alternative.

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