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Pride Month: LGBTQIA+ Laws in England & Wales

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Pride Month: LGBTQIA+ Laws in England & Wales

As Pride Month 2023 comes to an end, we have been researching key events and legislation that have affected the progress of LGBTQIA+ rights in England and Wales.

In this article, conveyancing assistant Jessica H provides a brief overview of key LGBTQIA+ legislation in England and Wales.

If you have any queries relating to LGBTQIA+ issues in Employment Law or Family Law, please contact us on 01707 329333 or email

Prior to 1861

In England and Wales, prior to 1967, homosexual acts between males were illegal. It is important to note that being a lesbian has never been a crime or targeted by any legislation.

From 1533-1861, the punishment for homosexual acts between males was execution.

Offences Against the Person Act 1861

This act removed the death penalty for homosexual acts and instead the punishment was imprisonment.

Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885

This act made any homosexual act illegal, even if there were no witnesses. Often, letters between two men expressing some affection were enough to lead to a conviction.

This is the law that convicted the famous writer, Oscar Wilde, in 1895, and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing, in 1952.

The Wolfenden Report 1957

In 1957, a committee led by Sir John Wolfenden CBE was set up to determine whether homosexual acts should remain illegal in England and Wales.

This was in response to the conviction of three famous men, Lord MontaguMichael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, who were imprisoned for homosexual offences.

The committee conducted interviews with witnesses including religious leaders, gay men, police officers and psychiatrists.

The report recommended that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.”

Sexual Offences Act 1967

Essentially, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 meant that it was no longer a crime for gay men to have sex, as long as it was consensual and they were over the age of 21.

“a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided homosexual homing to that the parties consent thereto and have attained the age of acts in private, twenty-one years.”

Section 28 1988: (Local Government Act)

This Act, brought in by Margaret Thatcher in 1988, made the following illegal within local authorities:

  • Promote homosexuality.
  • Teach about “pretended family relationships”.
  • Funding educational materials and projects that promote homosexuality.

This was a huge step backwards for the gay rights movement. It resulted in the closure and censorship of many support groups and organisations. This made growing up as a gay person extremely difficult for young people at the time as it stopped them receiving much needed support.

This act was repealed in England and Wales in 2003.

Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

This act changed the age of consent for gay men, from 21 years to 18 years.

Military ban lifted, 2000

Prior to 12 January 2000, gay, lesbian and bisexual people were banned from serving in the armed forces. This meant many gay people had to hide their sexuality or risk consequences including dismissal, invasive medical examinations, loss of pension, removal of service medals, dishonourable discharge and even imprisonment.

Today, all LGBTQ can serve openly in the military and discrimination against them is forbidden. It is also forbidden for someone to pressure any members of the military to come out. Military personnel are permitted to attend Pride marches in uniform. Gay couples are also granted the same allowances, housing and spousal benefits as straight couples.

It is important to remember all the military personnel who were discriminated against historically because of their sexuality as they campaign for a formal and public apology.

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000

This act changed the age of consent for gay people to age 16, matching that of heterosexuals. This act also introduced the age of consent for lesbians.

Adoption and Children Act 2002

This allowed same-sex couples to apply to adopt a child. Previously, only married couples could adopt a child. This act changed the rules so a single person or any couple could apply for adoption.

Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) regulations 2003

Prior to this act, employers could discriminate against LGBTQ people, choosing not to hire or promote them based on their sexuality or gender identity. LGBTQ people were not protected from bullying in the workplace and were sometimes declined the same benefits as their colleagues.

As a result of this act, it is illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace.

Civil Partnership Act, 2004

This law allowed same-sex couples to form a civil partnership, granting them the same legal rights as married couples.

Gender Recognition Act, 2004

This act gave transgender people the ability to change their legal gender. Trans people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate and an updated birth certificate, granting them full legal recognition of their gender.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 2008

This act meant that same-sex couples were recognised as the legal parents of children they conceived through donors.

Equality Act, 2010

The 2010 Equality Act combines over 116 pieces of legislation into a single Act, providing a clear framework about the protected rights and characteristics of individuals in England and Wales.

Protected characteristics in the Equality Act include age, disability, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief. Notably, they also include gender reassignment, sexual orientation, sex, marriage and civil partnership.

In summary, the act means that it is illegal for anyone to be discriminated against due to any of the above characteristics. This is particularly important in Employment Law.

Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, 2013

This Act legalised gay marriage in England and Wales. This meant couples already in a Civil Partnership could convert it to a marriage, and gay people could legally get married. It also meant that people who changed their legal gender did not have to end their marriage.

Religious Organisations that wish to can choose to conduct religious marriages of same sex couples. However, religions that do not allow same-sex marriage are not compelled to do this and the beliefs of different religions are respected.

Policing and Crime Act, 2017

Alan Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.

Following this, in 2017, the Policing and Crime Act 2017, known as “The Alan Turing Law” introduced a statutory pardon for all men historically convicted because of their sexuality.

Pride Month at Crane & Staples

We have enjoyed celebrating pride month at Crane & Staples. We are grateful to work in an inclusive, supportive and diverse workplace. It is important for us to understand that these issues affect us all, whether it is us personally, our colleagues, family, friends or members of our community.

As our firm’s practice areas include Employment Law and Family Law, we recognise how this legislation affects people’s lives on a daily basis, and the importance of ensuring these laws are upheld and enforced.

We have tried to celebrate Pride month authentically, taking the opportunity to educate ourselves and support local LGBTQ+ causes. Our Pride display includes flags purchased from an LGBTQ+ owned business where part of the proceeds go to charity. We have shared content from local groups such as Herts Young Homeless and Hertfordshire MIND that discuss LGBTQ+ issues. In the office, colleagues who wished to join in have openly and sensitively discussed their experiences and opinions. No one has been obligated to partake.

It is clear from the research above that the LGBTQ+ movement has made significant progress in the last decade, but there is still so much more to do.

We remember all those people who were mistreated and discriminated against historically because of their sexual orientation or gender identities, and those who campaigned for equality. We also acknowledge that, sadly, there are still many places in the world where LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against. We do not take for granted that discrimination does still happen in England and Wales, despite the existence of these laws and the huge movements the law has made so far. It is our hope that the LGBTQ+ movement continues to make progress in England and Wales and across the world, ensuring a truly equal world for everyone.

Happy Pride Month!


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