"Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash" -- attributed, probably inaccurately, to Winston Churchill
The end of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" (DADT) policy last month marks another milestone in the uneasy relationship between mariners and sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual. More than 3,100 servicemen and -women in the Navy, more than 150 in the Coast Guard, and nearly 900 in the Marines were forced out of due to their sexual orientation under DADT, but "sodomy" has been grounds for discharge since the Revolutionary War. The Urban Institute estimates that about 2.5-percent of active-duty servicemen and -women are gay, or nearly 40,000 currently serving.
"In The Navy..." With few or no women around, male sailors were left to each other to express themselves sexually. Unfortunately for them, this was often harshly discouraged. King Henry VIII declared "buggery" on British navy ships a hanging offense in 1553 and it would remain so for more than 300 years. It was still punishable by a life sentence as late as 1967. But it went on just the same. As one British navy officer told University of Denver researcher Arthur Gilbert in the mid 1970s
[H]omosexuality was rife, and one could see with his own eyes how it was going on between officers. I have been told that in some services (the Austrian and French, for instance), nobody ever remarks about it, taking such a thing as a natural proceeding: that may be so or not; but in any case, nobody was ‘shocked’ on board...There were half a dozen ties that we knew about … To my knowledge, sodomy is a regular thing on ships that go on long cruises.
|Clara Gordon Mains (on left)|