The History of Homosexuality: Legal Challenges

256px-Pride_London_2009_022 The History of Homosexuality: Legal Challenges

Royal Navy marching at London Pride 2009. Wikimedia Commons

The queer emancipation movement has had more dealings with the courts than the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of same-sex marriage. First after decriminalisation was an equal age of consent. It took a 1997 ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights to confirm that the UK’s unequal age of consent was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, a wrong which wasn’t corrected until 2000.

In 2002, the UK parliament amended the adoption laws of England and Wales which removed the provision requiring only married couples may adopt. While not specifically a queer-rights issue, the change still allowed LGBT individuals and couples to apply for adoption for the first time. Scotland introduced similar legislation in 2009, and the U.S. has had similar laws in every state except Mississippi since 2011, but elsewhere the issue remains contentious.

The British military has allowed LGB troops to openly serve since 2000, although it didn’t prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for another ten years. Trans personnel are also allowed to serve openly, a matter which has still not been resolved in the U.S. military. In 2008, representatives from all three major branches of the British military — army, navy, and air force — were allowed to march in uniform at London Pride for the first time. All three services now actively recruit at Pride events.

Section 28, a notorious provision to the Local Government Act 1986 which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools, was repealed in 2002. Under Section 28, a teacher couldn’t so much as comfort a child confused about their sexuality by saying it was okay to be gay. In 2009, Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologised for the introduction of the law by his party, calling it a “mistake” and “offensive.”

Some LGBT discrimination protection has been law in the UK since 1999. In 2003, workplace discrimination was prohibited. In 2007, the Sexual Orientation Regulations forbade discrimination in the providing of goods and services. In October 2007, the government announced plans to introduce a bill prohibiting the incitement of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This was realised in the Equality Act 2010, which overwrote the array of earlier laws providing legal protections to queerfolk.

Great strides have been made in recent decades, but there is much still to be done. The laws pertaining to transfolk are still murky in places (and generally took longer to implement than for LGBfolk, but that’s a whole other blog post), and those pertaining to minors are still not perfect (the British government is currently looking into the matter of “conversion therapy,” a recent import from the U.S.). Nonetheless, in a recent Gallup survey, LGBT residents voted the UK one of the top ten places to live.

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