Timeline of legal changes

In 1885 the Labouchere Amendment was passed. This created the offence of gross indecency that made all sexual acts between men illegal. The criminal law was now focused on the punishment of homosexuality.

In 1895 Oscar Wilde was prosecuted for gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison.
Thousands of other gay men were blackmailed, prosecuted, sentenced to prison, pilloried and shamed. Men like Alan Turing, who helped break the Enigma code, committed suicide shortly after his prosecution. In the 1950s a widely publicised case, the Monatague - Wildeblood trial, re-awakened the movement for reform.

In 1957 the Wolfenden Committee published its report. The Committee recommended that consensual homosexual behaviour, between men over the age of 21, should be decriminalised except in the armed forces.

In 1960 the Homosexual Law Reform Society held its first public meeting. Over 1,000 people attended.

In 1967, ten years after Wolfenden, Leo Abse introduced the Sexual Offences Bill 1967 with support from Roy Jenkins, then the Labour Home Secretary.

The new Act implemented the Wolfenden proposals, but introduced new privacy restrictions - no act could take place where a third person was likely to be present. In 2000 Stonewall successfully challenged these privacy provisions in the European Court of Human Rights in the case of ADT v. UK

In 1980 the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act decriminalised homosexuality on similar terms to the 1967 Act.

In 1982, following the successful appeal of Jeff Dudgeon to the European Court of Human Rights, decriminalisation was extended to Northern Ireland.

In 1991 the Conservative government undertook to cease criminal prosecutions against men in the armed forces.

In 1994 the age of consent for gay men was reduced to 18, and then to 16 in 2001.

In 1997 the Government introduced a Sex Offenders Bill that required the courts to place certain convicted sex offenders on a register. The 1997 Act was subsequently amended and then re-enacted by the Sexual Offenders Act 2003. The original proposals would have included all men convicted of gross indecency. After fierce protests from Stonewall and many other lesbian and gay groups this was withdrawn, but men convicted of age of consent offences, including the younger person, were included.

In 1999 the government set up a major review of sexual offences. The review team, including representatives from Stonewall, made a wide range of recommendations to protect children, women and vulnerable groups from sexual abuse and assault. The review states:
 "...a new offence should operate in a gender and sexuality neutral way. A man and a man - or a woman and a woman - kissing and holding hands in public should no more be criminalised than a man and a woman behaving in the same way."
Setting the Boundaries


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