Landmark gay history
In the tumultuous course of the French Revolution of 1789, a minor French lawmaker named Jean-Jacques-Regis de Cambaceres threaded his way through the political landmines of his era, to change the legal code in ways that are still felt.
Cambaceres was born in Montpelier to a family of minor nobility, and trained for the law. There is no record of when or how he recognized that he was homosexual, yet it is evident that for much of his life he was open about his orientation, albeit discreet about the particulars.
Cambaceres’ legal training proved helpful once the Revolution broke out, when he sided against the regime of King Louis XVI. Through it all, however, he showed a level of moderation that kept his head attached to his neck, unlike the heads of so many of his compatriots.
In 1795, he even survived a term as president of the infamous Committee of Public Safety. Four years later, Napoleon took power and proposed the creation of a complete new legal code, reflecting the enlightenment of the Revolution.
To draw up the code, Napoleon sought someone with a superb legal background as well as the diplomatic skills to unite disparate factions. For this momentous task, he selected Cambaceres. The result, issued in 1810, was the Napoleonic Code (or Code Napoleon), a wide-sweeping new criminal code that instituted numerous reforms.
Among the provisions, put there by Cambaceres, was the decriminalization of homosexuality. Many other countries, particularly in Europe and South America, modeled their own reforms after the Napoleonic Code, and abandoned anti-gay laws in the 19th century, but the United States was not among them.