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Comment: The legacy of Lord Wolfenden who helped decriminalise homosexuality

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  1. “….and for the first time, given license to exist un-persecuted in Britain.”
    Sadly the licence only applied to England and Wales, although in Scotland the Advocate General [Chief Law Officer] instructed that there should be no prosecutions for something which couldn’t be prosecuted in England & Wales, thus unofficially extending the legislation to Scotland. Sadly in Northern Ireland absolutely nothing changed, in fact during Direct Rule the UK Government shamefully, actively and secretly connived with the Catholic Church to maintain the status quo – the full weight of the State apparatus could and would be and often was brought to bear on any gay couples or known gay men at any time.
    It was the courage, and it was a very courageous, for a small group to take the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights to secure for gay men in Northern Ireland the same privileges, rights and responsibilities enjoyed by their fellows in Great Britain.

    1. ChrisMorley 17 May 2013, 3:23pm

      The 1967 Act had other major flaws that took years to undo.

      Heterosexual men could have sex at 16, but gay men had to wait another five years until they were 21. I had to wait until the last few months of my time at university before sex became legal.
      Gay sex was still illegal for men in the armed forces and merchant navy, whatever your age.
      If there was anyone else in the room, sex was always criminal; sex with more than one man was always criminal: it wasn’t “in private”.
      Sex in hotel rooms and prison cells was not considered to be “in private” and was always criminal. Sex is still a crime in a prison cell.
      Sex in locked toilet cubicles was not “in private”. The police often used “pretty policemen” to entrap gay men into making sexual moves in public toilets and many were prosecuted.
      Gay sex fundamentally remained the crime of “gross indecency” but it was now legalised if it was “in private” and both men were over 21.

      1. theycantdothat 19 May 2013, 12:09am

        Everything you say is true. However, you need to remember two things. First, politics is the art of the possible. It would not have been possible at the time to put gay sex on a par with straight sex – it would just not have got through the House of Lords. Secondly, all social reform tends to go in steps. Look at women’s suffrage and the laws on child labour. Whilst Parliament can lead, it can only go so far without taking public opinion with it. The 1967 Act was a huge step forward and we should all honour those who campaigned to see it through, even if by today’s standards some of the things they may have said do not read well today.

  2. Philip Breen 17 May 2013, 12:02pm

    We will be able to see what the current attitudes of the legal & parliamentary systems in the UK are to the non-persecution of gays, if they use the forthcoming opportunity sensibly, to filter the old gay offences of ‘gross indecency’ and ‘soliciting or persistently importuning by man for an immoral purpose’ in the new CRB/DBS disclosure regulations to be published by the Home Office, so distinguishing them from the ‘serious sexual offences’ or ‘specified offences’ yet unexplained in detail but defined as a category of exemptions from filtering. The Home Office has said Safeguarding will be the pretext for decisions made. What provisions will the scheme envisage to distinguish Safeguarding from instinctive homophobia and to protect those blighted by the old gay offences that belong to another era from renewed humiliating disclosure?

  3. Thank you, Mr. Bell, for this fine and well-written contribution to PinkNews!

    I found your report of Charles Dickens’s visit to Newgate Prison in 1835 both poignant and distressing. I think that James Pratt and John Smith, the last men to be hanged in Britain for “buggery”, and the “buggery” having been conducted entirely in private, really ought to be publically honoured now, in some significant way.

    How utterly appalling that two homosexual men were hanged for simply having expressed their love for each other. We really do owe them something.

  4. Thank you for this interesting account of Wolfenden. More about the Wolfenden report may be found at The article there says that Wolfenden discovered that his son Jeremy was gay in the course of the committee’s deliberations.

  5. there is a very good bbc play about the the inquiry, starring Charles Dance as Wolfendon. try u tube or a dvd store

  6. Peter Gregory 18 May 2013, 2:22pm

    Lord Arran said advised gays post 67 Sexual Offences Act to “show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity… any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future or any form of public flaunting would be utterly distasteful…”
    Flaunting.. THAT recurrent word.
    His joint sponsor of the bill, Leo Abse told me “You gays are very ungrateful. You hide in your ghettos instead of “integrating”. He had just addressed the gay LMG group, & seemed rather bitter. Lord Longford, who could not remember the names of his 14 children told us (the LMG) that we were sinners and should repent, nearly causing a mini-riot. I drove him home, and he was incredulous that gays could form monogamous relationships.
    In Manchester post-67 Chief Constable Anderton devoted countless thousands of police hours to catching queers in cottages, even hiding them in attics above urinals, whilst the crime rate soared. He stopped when the “Sun”, headlined “God’s Cop’s daughter is a dyke”

    1. theycantdothat 19 May 2013, 12:50am

      As I suggested above, I do not think we should dwell too much on what supporters of the 1967 Act said. In particular, I think that Lord Arran was doing no more than trying to deflect criticism. I remember seeing him interviewed on TV and he said he had excrement sent to him through the post when he was sponsoring the bill. Many decent and reasonable people at the time believed that to be gay was unfortunate, but did not think that gay sex should be a criminal offence.Anyway, let’s not bracket Lord Arran and Leo Abse with the likes of Lord Longford and James Anderton.

  7. Christopher Hobe Morrison 24 May 2013, 2:49am

    Let’s not forget the Alan Turing pardon bill now being considered in Parliament.

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