Paragraph 175 is a legal provision first adopted at the inception of the German Empire in 1871. It drew on prior legislature from other jurisdictions–in particular, the Prussian penal code, which contained laws prohibiting homosexual acts. Paragraph 175 was expanded during the Nazi regime and used to justify the incarceration and murder of thousands of men.
Paragraph 175 was introduced by Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, when he was made Emperor of the recently united German kingdoms. The constitution and penal code of this new German Empire was based heavily on the Prussian model. Prior to this, some German states had more liberal views on homosexuality and had already been advocating for the decriminalization of homosexual acts. While opposition to Paragraph 175 had been isolated to a few specific individuals, this changed in 1897 with the founding of the sexual-reformist Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (WhK). A petition calling for the deletion of Paragraph 175, drafted by WhK chairman Magnus Hirschfeld, gathered 6,000 signatories. It was brought to the Reichstag a year later, but failed to enact any change. Little progress was made for a decade until the Reichstag began planning to extend the law to encompass acts between women. This amendment was never debated due to World War I and the German Empire's subsequent defeat.
During the Weimar Republic era (1919-1929), there was a more concerted effort to remove Paragraph 175 from law, as well as the increase in some freedoms for homosexual individuals, such as a "flourishing homosexual scene" of gay bars and theaters, as well as an increasing understanding of homosexuality, in part thanks to the creation of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science) by Magnus Hirschfeld. This and his own activism for the repeal of Paragraph 175 had some effect at the time, but much like the decades preceding it, little change occurred, and any remaining potential for reform had collapsed–alongside the Weimar Republic itself–by 1930.
Paragraph 175 would not be completely repealed until June 11, 1994, four years after the reunification of East and West Germany; however, East Germany had removed the Nazi-era amendments by 1950, and had stopped enforcing the law by 1957. While it initially kept Paragraph 175a, it fully abolished both statutes in 1968.
Conversely, West Germany retained the 1935 Nazi version of the law, including subsections 175a and 175b. At this time, the Catholic Church in West Germany remained adamant about the sinful nature of homosexuality.
- Paragraph 175 (German)
- Dobler, Jens. Wie öffentliche Moral gemacht wird: Die Einführung des § 175 in das Strafgesetzbuch 1871. Männerschwarm Verlag, 2014. German.
- Lauritsen, John, & Thorstad, David. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935). Times Change Press, 1974. English. (web archive)
- Ramsey, Glenn. The Rites of Artgenossen: Contesting Homosexual Political Culture in Weimar Germany. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 2008. (web archive)
- Whisnant, Clayton. Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedon, 1945-69. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. English.