50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 1967-2017
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So how did we get to that landmark moment in LGBT history? Rewind to the 1960s, when Member of Parliament Leo Abse and House of Lords peer Lord Arran offered proposals to amend the law for homosexual men, changing the way they were treated by introducing the Sexual Offences Bill. They saw the Bill as a way to make attitudes towards gay people more liberal, a change which they felt was much needed following a staggering rise in the number of prosecutions of homosexual men.
The 1965 Sexual Offences Bill used findings from the 1957 Wolfenden Report, which suggested that certain homosexual offences should be decriminalised; ‘offences’ at which you wouldn’t even bat an eyelid these days.
The committee which oversaw the report was set up to investigate prostitution and homosexuality in the 1950s. As a result, they found that criminal law couldn’t intervene in the ‘private sexual affairs of consenting adults’ behind closed doors.
In short, the Wolfenden committee said that: “Unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is, in brief, not the law's business.”
Following the publication of this report, the government of the time showed support for Lord Arran’s liberal thinking and put the Bill through parliament. It was considered that the law should not penalise gay men, already subject to much ‘ridicule and derision’.
Roy Jenkins, the home secretary in 1967, commented that gay men “suffer from this disability” and “carry a great weight of shame”. His remarks essentially summed up the government’s perspective on homosexuality.
The Bill received royal assent on 27 July 1967 after a late-night debate in the House of Commons. Once it had become law, decriminalising homosexuality, the age of consent was set at 21. It wasn’t until 1994 that this was reduced to 18, and only in the year 2000 was it reduced to 16 - the same age as the heterosexual age of consent.
So what does all of this mean for us today?
We at Essex Pride acknowledge that the LGBT+ community enjoy many freedoms that previous generations did not. We are proud to say that in law we have equality of rights and protection from abuse. The successes of campaigners, prides, our community and our allies over the last 50 years will inspire us to keep proud and stay loud for equality. We feel that there is still some way to go in terms of changing attitudes towards our community, as well as laws across nations. To recognise the continued need to tackle inequality and discrimination, we will have a “Stay Loud for Equality” pledge wall at the entrance of Essex Pride 2017. Please all sign up and let us know what you are doing to keep equality at the top of the agenda.