What do you know about Jeremy Bentham? Utilitarianism? Check. The Auto-Icon? Check. But did you know that Bentham was also a major philosophical defender of sexual liberty and gay rights?
Here is Faramerz Dabhoiwala, writing in The Guardian:
"The main impetus for Bentham's obsession with sexual freedom was his society's harsh persecution of homosexual men. Since about 1700, the increasing permissiveness towards what was seen as 'natural' sex had led to a sharpened abhorrence across the western world of supposedly 'unnatural' acts. Throughout Bentham's lifetime, homosexuals were regularly executed in England, or had their lives ruined by the pillory, exile or public disgrace. He was appalled at this horrible prejudice. Sodomy, he argued, was not just harmless but evidently pleasurable to its participants. The mere fact that the custom was abhorrent to the majority of the community no more justified the persecution of sodomites than it did the killing of Jews, heretics, smokers, or people who ate oysters – 'to destroy a man there should certainly be some better reason than mere dislike to his Taste, let that dislike be ever so strong.'"
Unfortunately, Bentham was afraid to publish his detailed arguments for sexual liberty, but he wrote about them extensively and discussed them with his friends. He hoped that the arguments would be read and publicly accepted after he was dead, Dabhoiwala explains.