The Against Nature Journal: The Past and Present of Laws Against Nature

This text was initially published in 2020 as the 'endnote' in The Against Nature Journal (T.A.N.J.) issue #1 co-written by Grégory Castéra and Giulia Tognon.

Living in a society based on a secular legal system with a religious imprint, we are subject to the concept and figure of “nature.” It is used to criminalize individuals for nonreproductive sexual orientations, gender identities, and ways of being. This affects primarily LGBTQI+ communities, but it extends beyond them too. The legal language to support such criminalization often stems from colonial legal codes: the Napoleonic Penal Code, for example, and various other British texts. Defined in some Penal Codes as an “act against nature” (Article 534, Lebanon, 1943), “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (Section 377, India, 1860, repealed in 2018), or “carnal knowledge against the order of Nature” (Article 162, Kenya, 1930), these laws often found no cultural base when first introduced to former European colonies. Using arbitrary concepts to divide what is “natural” from what is “unnatural,” politicians, judges, and religious figures have ascribed an indisputable authority to nature (and still do), and such divisions are enforced with the full coercive power of the state. Over the past couple of years we have witnessed important legal changes however, especially in India and Botswana, which undermine this concept of nature; these are moments of hope, but more importantly they are occasions to discuss further developments.

Ultimately, challenging the colonial origins of the contra naturam laws is important work to do, and yet this work still remains insufficient; we bear responsibility for the continuing exercise of these laws and their related imaginaries. From north to south, the laws against nature have become a horizon for the politics of many conservative movements, who look for more control and uniformization of people’s gender, sexuality, and privacy. This is also affecting countries that were once considered to be progressive, but are now witnessing a rise of anti-gender ideologies, the justification of verbal and physical discrimination toward trans individuals, worsening environments for LGBTQI+ organizations, divergent legal statuses and reproductive rights for LGBTQI+ families, as well as the threat to abortion rights for women.

To monitor current state jurisdictions, charts, maps, and rankings are produced by international NGOs, like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). Beyond criminalization their research also takes into account instances of expression, freedom of association, protection (constitutional, individual, professional), and the recognition of marriage, partnership, and adoption. This map, inverted and visually translated, is offered here as a tool to visualize the work that still needs to be done.

Discrimination is not only enforced by the state, and while international advocacy is more necessary than ever, human dignity and equality enacted on a personal level must become part of rethinking the social and legal imaginary, to which The Against Nature Journal hopes to contribute.

Text by

  • Grégory Castéra
  • Giulia Tognon

Image: The data presented in this map is based on “State-Sponsored Homophobia”, an International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) report by Lucas Ramón Mendos, December 2019. Courtesy of ILGA World.

Map drawn by Stepan Lipatov.