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Here’s 5 things you need to know about Labour’s history of LGBT+ rights

Emma Powys Maurice December 12, 2019
Labour

Outrage! protest over the age of gay consent outside House of Lords as debate goes on inside, London 22 July 1998. (Photofusion/Universal Images Group/Getty)

On December 12, the UK will be dragged kicking and screaming through its third election in less than five years.

As the major parties battle each other for their share of the vote, the big issues under the spotlight will be the NHS, Brexit, climate change, Brexit, immigration, Brexit, the economy and of course, Brexit.

Unfortunately, LGBT+ issues probably won’t get much of a look in – but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot at stake.

So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 things you need to know about each party’s LGBT+ history before the big day, starting with Labour. Whichever party you support, don’t forget to vote!

1.  Labour repealed Section 28.

Labour has a long and proud history of campaigning for LGBT+ rights, and one of the party’s biggest LGBT+ reforms was the repeal of Section 28, a homophobic piece of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988.

Section 28 banned the “promotion” homosexuality in any way, which meant Councils were forbidden from funding books, plays, leaflets, films, or other materials showing same-sex relationships, while teachers weren’t allowed to teach about gay relationships in schools.

Labour first attempted to repeal it in 2000 but was defeated by the House of Lords, which Theresa May called “a victory for common sense.” MPs finally succeeded in abolishing the legislation in 2003 with help from grassroots campaigners.

Celebrities opposing Section 28 in 1998. Those present include (from second left) actor Michael Cashman, comedian Rhona Cameron and activist Peter Tatchell. First and second from right: Musician and radio presenter Tom Robinson, and comedian and TV presenter Graham Norton. (Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty)

2. Labour equalised the age of consent.

Before 1994, the age of consent for men who have sex with men was set firmly at 21 (unless you were in the armed forces or merchant navy, in which case it was a punishable offence regardless of your age).

This meant that a 21 year old man could legally be prosecuted for having private, consensual sex with a 20 year old man – while heterosexual sex was legal from the age of 16.

In 1994 Labour lowered the age of consent to 18, before further lowering it to 16 regardless of sexual orientation in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 2000. This finally came into force in January 2001.

3. Labour created civil partnerships.

In 2004 Labour introduced the landmark Civil Partnership Act, which granted same-sex couples in England, Scotland and Wales most of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

For the first time ever, same-sex civil partners were entitled to the same property and tenancy rights, parental rights and responsibilities, social security, life insurance and pension benefits, and next-of-kin rights as married couples.

It was a step behind full, same-sex marriage, which was introduced by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, but a significant move towards equality all the same.

Henry Kane (R) and Christopher Flanagan became the UK’s second gay couple to marry in a civil partnership on December 19, 2005 (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

4. Labour extended adoption rights to LGBT+ people.

In 2002 Labour passed the Adoption and Children Act, which enabled same-sex couples to adopt children and legally form their own families. Before this point, neither same-sex couples nor unmarried straight couples could adopt or foster children.

It was a controversial move at the time, with critics raising doubts over the stability of relationships outside marriage. The Act was rejected by the House of Lords but Labour persisted, and today, adoptions to LGBT+ people in England have reached record highs.

5. Labour ended the ban on gay and lesbians serving in the armed forces.

2000 was the first time that gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Before 2001 they would have to keep their sexual orientation secret or they could be fired.

Stonewall spearheaded the movement to abolish military prohibitions on sexuality, and went to the High Court on behalf of a gay Royal Navy commander who had been dismissed.

When the court judgement was announced Labour immediately agreed to lift the ban, and it is now illegal to discriminate against any LGBT+ people in the military, or to pressure them to come out.

Bonus fact: Labour has the most serving LGBT+ MPs out of any party – 18 in total! To see what Labour is promising queer voters in its 2019 election manifesto, click here.

 

More: adoption rights, age of consent, Civil partnerships, Labour, LGBT Labour, Section 28

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