The foundations upon which emancipation camePepperells
Author – Rosalind Smith
It is now 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Previously, it was a criminal offence punishable by prison. Thousands of men were routinely found “guilty” of being gay and jailed.
However, the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 meant two consenting men over the age of 21 would be exempt from prosecution.
While the legislation did not go far enough, it did lay the solid foundations which have since supported the continuous evolution of equality in law. It wasn’t emancipation but it was a start which overnight changed the world for many men.
It was as a major milestone for our society and for the development of our law. On July 21, it was exactly 50 years since the bill was passed and you can read our post about that [here].
The record from the House of Lords perfectly encapsulates what a landmark moment it was as Lord Arron moved that the Bill be passed. It also gives us an insight into the attitudes prevalent at the time.
Lord Arran asked that “for whom the prison doors are now open” to “show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity.” Adding: “This is no occasion for jubilation; certainly not for celebration.”
And yet, 50 years later, we celebrate equality and diversity in all its forms; in the city of William Wilberforce we celebrate freedom and this was no better demonstrated than the Pride in Hull festivities across the weekend, festivities which will continue throughout the week.
Lord Arran also said: “no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision.” He did not know what was to come, nor what the legal and cultural landscape in the UK would look like half a century later.
Since 1967, our country has taken many more steps towards equality, changing the law to reflect the changing views of society – and it is fascinating to see.
- In 1994 the age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18
- In 2000 a ban on lesbian and gay men in the armed forces was lifted
- In 2001 the age of consent was reduced from 18 to 16 for men, and an age of consent for gay women was introduced, bringing about full equality
- In 2003 parliament repealed a 1988 law which prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools
- In 2004 the Sexual Offences Act 2003 revised the law in relation to sexual acts, getting rid of references to “male” or “female” making gender inconsequential in law
- In 2005 the Civil Partnership Act 2004 introduced legal recognition of same-sex relationships and in the same year, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 meant transgender people would have their change legally recognised
- In 2009, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, children born through fertility treatment could have two “recorded parents” on their birth certificates; allowing for legally-recognised second female parents
- In 2010 Parental Orders became available for gay parents who had made surrogacy arrangements. In the same year, the Equality Act 2010 was passed, which consolidated various previous laws and regulations and specifically prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation
- In 2014 the legal definition of marriage was expanded to include partners of the same gender. This had the side-effect that married people seeking to change their legal gender were no longer required to divorce or annul their marriage first
- Earlier in 2017, parliament granted annulment of thousands of convictions for homosexual offences
The law and its attitude towards LGBT+ issues is complicated. It is minefield beset by myriad challenges and there are still gaps, particularly in relation to transgender and intersex law.
But, while our laws may be unhurried to change, prudence and careful consideration are critical – we must be certain of something before we change the rules by which we live but we can rest assured that when something needs changing, it happens.
We live in one of the most progressive societies in the world, we are the custodians of a legal system which continually evolves to support the fundamental values of equality and remove prejudice and while the 1967 Act was in many ways underwhelming, it is a piece of history which reminds us that we have a system to be rightly proud of.