Because homosexuality in particular has a long history of persecution by the state, there is a lot of legislation impacting this topic. The page is intended to provide a short summary of the legislation and primary court judgments in the UK. The bulk of the legislation has been put in place between 1999 and 2010 and during that time almost all was the direct result of decisions from the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission.
This was the first act of parliament to make the act of Sodomy a criminal offense punishable by hanging. Sodomy had been increasing the focus of European law and was a prime target of the Spanish Inquisition, however there is evidence of a more specific ulterior motive for Henry VIII in introducing this law. It coincided with the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the beginning of the separation of the Church Of England from the Roman Catholic Church. The Act specifically gave powers to the King to execute clerics and confiscate their lands and possessions, which it is believed was the primary purpose of the Act.
Unsurprisingly in 1553 Queen Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon ascended to the throne and repealed this and other anti catholic laws. However when she died without an heir, she was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I who reinstated the Act in 1563.
This Act repealed the Buggery Act 1533, but retained the offense of sodomy as a capital offense. The last two Englishmen hanged for sodomy were John Pratt and John Smith executed in front of the Newgate Prison in London on the 27th of November 1835. The last execution for sodomy took place in 1836.
This Act wholly replaced the 1828 act and removed the death penalty or buggery replacing it with a sentence of penal servitude for life or any tern not less than 10 years - the minimum sentence was repealed through the penal servitude act 1891.
Commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment, this last minute addition to the Act made gross indecency a crime punishable by two years imprisonment and it was under this amendment that both Oscar Wilde and Alan Turin were tried and convicted. The full text of the amendment was:
Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.
What constituted Gross Indecency was never made clear but the act was used broadly to prosecute men suspected of homosexuality where actual sodomy could not be proved. The definition was so vague that this act was dubbed the "Blackmailers Charter."
Receiving Royal Assent on 28th July 1967, this important Act decriminalised homosexual acts after more than 400 years. However according to Peter Tatchell it resulted initially in an increase in convictions for homosexuality. This was because the ACT made sex between consenting adult men over the age of 21 legal "in private." The Courts chose to interpret this very strictly, meaning that there must be no one else in the building. This meant that two men taking a room in a hotel were often reported, and subsequently raided and arrested.
Since prior to this Act, transsexual women were treated as legally male even if they were living and presenting as female and had undergone gender reassignment surgery, many had been convicted of homosexuality.
In 1970, April Ashley’s divorce made matters worse. Until then, post-surgery trans women had been able to change their birth certificates unofficially, to reflect their acquired gender. However, in the court case annulling her marriage to Arthur Corbett (Corbett v Corbett ), Justice Ormrod determined that trans people could not ever change sex, and therefore even after full gender reassignment, trans people remained legally in their birth gender. This made them unable to marry, and inhumanely treated in all legal matters, including imprisonment.
Highly controversial amendment to the Local Government Act which stated that a Local Authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". While no-one was ever prosecuted under the act it effectively prevented schools from properly educating pupils and prevented local authorities from supporting LGBT communities.
This judgement in the European Court of Justice prohibited workplace and vocational training discrimination against trans people who are 'intending to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment’ - Includes voluntary work. This judgement meant that all UK courts had to comply with the ruling and resulted in legislation to include trans people in the Sex Discrimination Act and largely to restrict the effect of the European judgement.
The age of consent of 21 for homosexual males set by the 1967 Act was reduced to 18 by this act despite an attempt by Conservative MP Edwina Currie get an amendment passed to equalise the age of consent with that of the heterosexual age of consent of 16. This act also extended the definition of rape to include penetration of the anus creating the offence of male rape.
Whilst most of the legislation providing legal protection to people on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender reassignment have been the direct result of a European Decision - the cost and time of taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights makes this unrealistic as a remedy for moat people. The Human Rights Act makes it possible for a UK court to rule on a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights without the need to go to Strasbourg.
It also makes it illegal for any public body to act in a manner that is incompatible with the European Convention unless an Act of Parliament means they have no other choice. Courts must consider decisions made in Strasbourg in their UK rulings but cannot override parliament, instead they can issue a declaration of incompatibility. Any individual can still take their case to the European Court of Human Rights as a last resort.
In respect of employment and training, the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act were extended to include trans people, provided they were intending to undergo, undergoing or had undergone gender reassignment. The act brought in a number of exemptions such as personal searches, personal services, and religious organisations. Some of those exemptions have now been overruled, though others still exist – especially for religious organisations, who are still able to discriminate.
The European Court of Human Rights held that the UK government’s failure to alter the birth certificates of transsexual people or to allow them to marry in their new gender role was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. This led directly to new legislation to once again clarify and restrict the extent of the judgement.
Following several failed attempts the government invoked the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 to defeat opposition in the House of Lords and equalise that age of consent at 16 for both homosexual and heterosexual behaviours throughout the UK.
These regulations implemented within the United Kingdom the provisions of the EU Equal Treatment Directive making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds sexual orientation in respect of employment, vocational training, professional organisations and trade unions.
This Act finally repealed the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 after a number of failed attempts. Section 28 had galvanised the Gay Rights movement in the UK and community and it is likely that many LGBT people were inspired to "come out" and campaign against this hugely discriminatory legislation. Released from the constrictions of Section 28 local authorities have subsequently embraced and supported the LGBT community although sadly schools have been much slower to respond. Many schools stills are reluctant to positively promote LGBT issues and have allowed the negative use of the tern "Gay" to become commonplace. Many Conservative supporters of Section 28 have subsequently admitted that the legislation was wrong.
This Act deleted from statutory law the offenses of gross indecency and buggery and sexual activity between more than two men is no longer a crime in the United Kingdom. At the same time the definition of rape was further extended to include penetration of the mouth. Following this act the Home Office announced that it would be removing people convicted of "homosexual Offences" that were no longer illegal from the sex offenders register, however there is still evidence that many of these gay men and trans women are still on the sex offenders register and that they have to apply to be removed.
Following extensive consultation and considerable objection from religious organisations, the Gender Recognition Act provided full legal recognition of a transperson’s new gender for ALL purposes, including marriage, new birth certificate, pension rights, social security benefits and privacy. In order to qualify for legal recognition, a trans person has to show that they have been diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, and evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender role for a minimum of 2 years, and that they intend to do so permanently, for the remainder of their life. Their Application must be supported by two medical practitioners, one of whom is a gender specialist and supported by a statutory declaration. It is not necessary for a trans person to have undergone any surgery or hormonal treatment, however the Gender Recognition Panel requires an explanation from the medical practitioners.
Despite parliament refusing to grant exemption from the Gender Recognition Act to religious organisations, shortly after the act was passed, this statutory instrument was introduced quietly. It essentially exempted churches from all penalties, therefore enabling them to refuse a trans person any involvement in religious activities.
This is an important piece of legislation for trans people because many trans women are already married to women, and would like to remain married. However, in order to be recognised in their acquired gender, all trans people must first divorce their partner, and then enter into a civil partnership once their gender is legally recognised. It is possible to do all this in one day, but it does create some legal issues. There are at least 150 trans women who face this difficulty, most of whom do not wish to get divorced. Most trans men, if in a relationship when they transition, tend to be in relationships with women – but if the couple have entered into a civil partnership, it will have to be dissolved before a Gender Recognition Certificate can be granted. The UK government is totally opposed to same sex marriage and civil partnerships are not permitted for opposite sex partners.
The Equality Act 2006 is important in four particular ways.
Firstly, it set up the creation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Prior to this Act there were three separate commissions dealing with Race, Disability and Gender. The commission dealing with Gender was the Equal Opportunities Commission. All three have now been merged to become the EHRC and four additional diversity strands or protected grounds have been added – Sexual Orientation, Age, Religion and Faith and Gender Reassignment (although this is often considered part of the Gender strand)
Secondly, the Equalities Act introduced the Gender Equality Duty – which followed the format of the Race Equality and Disability Equality duties in requiring public sector organisations to take positive action to prevent discrimination.
Thirdly, it set out the framework for new legislation to prevent discrimination against lesbian and gay people in the delivery of goods and services.
Finally, the EHRC is also responsible for drafting the new Single Equalities Bill due to be presented to parliament later this year which will include a new Single equality Duty. This duty will extend the duties to the other strands – and remove anomalies that have developed in the treatment of discrimination in the different strands -- moving us towards a unified approach to discrimination, no matter what the cause. This will make it easier to deal with discrimination issues where there are multiple issues. E.g., if a 60 year old black disabled trans women is discriminated against, under current legislation, different rules would apply depending on the nature of the discrimination.
The Gender Equality Duty is crucially important for Trans people because it totally changed the way discrimination was treated within the Public sector. The Gender Equality Duty required Public sector organisations to promote equal opportunities and take action to prevent discrimination and harassment on the ground of gender, including gender reassignment. The Duty came into force in April 2007 and has since been replaced by the Public Sector Equality Duty. Under this duty all public sector organisations were required to undertake consultation to establish the primary issues in their area of responsibility and also to prepare and publish a Gender Equality Scheme detailing how they intended to prevent discrimination and harassment, and promote equality of opportunity.
This made it illegal to discriminate against gay and lesbian people in the delivery of goods and services. For example, prior to this, a guest house or hotel could refuse to provide a room to two man because they were gay. The legislation met with considerable resistance during its passage though parliament and, notably, trans people were not included in the Equalities Act, and so were not protected by this legislation. That said, a lot of trans people are often considered gay or lesbian at some stage in their lives, whether before or after transition.
One reason for trans people being excluded from the goods and services legislation related to sexual orientation was the prior existence of this European Directive, which required the UK government to extend the Sex Discrimination Act to include gender reassignment.
This amendment provided protection for people who were planning to undergo, had undergone or were undergoing a medically supervised programme of Gender Reassignment, making it illegal to discriminate against them in the delivery of goods and services. The amendment was supposed to have been put in place by December 21st 2007 – but due to an objection by Ian Paisley, then First Secretary of Northern Ireland, it was not passed until April 2008 after Paisley had resigned. Once again comprehensive exemptions were provided on the grounds of religious belief.
This was one of the Labour Governments Flagship pieces of legislation comprehensively overhauling all previous equality and diversity legislation and as far as possible harmonising the treatment of the equality strands, now called Protected characteristics. This act probably impacted trans people more than any other group partly because it introduced provision that applied to some protected characteristics but had not applied to Gender Reassignment, and also because of a small change in the definition which significantly broadened the reach of the legislation to include most trans people who were not undergoing a "medically supervised" process of gender reassignment.