Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment, made gross indecency a crime in the United Kingdom. The Act contained no definition of "gross indecency," as Victorian morality demurred from precise descriptions of activity held to be immoral. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy (meaning, in this context, anal intercourse) could not be proven. The penalty of life imprisonment for sodomy (until 1861 it had been death) was also so harsh that successful prosecutions were rare. The new law was much more enforceable. The Bill was debated in the British House of Commons on August 6, 1885 as "An Act to Make Further Provision for the Protection of Women, Girls, the Suppression of Brothels and Other Purposes”. It was also meant to raise the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse.
A Parliamentary committee studying homosexuality challenged the law in 1957.They were both repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalized homosexual behaviour.
Sodomy was made illegal in England in the 7th century. Initially, cases were tried by the ecclestiacal courts. Punishments ranged from burial alive to burning. In 1533, during the time of Henry VIII sodomy was codified into secular law, as “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery”. In 1861, the “Offences against the Person Act, introduced in 1861”, lowered the punishment for sodomy to life imprisonment from capital punishment. Until 1885, sodomy was punishable by life imprisonment. However, a loophole allowed for the legal acts of fellatio, masturbation, as well as other acts of non-penetration. Homosexual activity, though stigmatized and demonized, was quite safe during the time; the burden of proof was in the hands of the courts, who had to prove penetration had actually occurred. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1885, was introduced to outlaw sex between men and underage girls. Henry Labouchere proposed his amendment at the last minute. Frank Harris, a contemporary, wrote that Labouchere proposed the amendment in order to make the law seem "ridiculous" and thus discredit it in its entirety; some historians agree, citing Labouchere's habitual obstructionism and other attempts to sink this bill by the same means, while others write that his role in the Cleveland Street scandal and the context of the law in controlling male sexuality suggest a sincere attempt. The amendment was rushed through and passed in the early hours of August 7, 1885, becoming section 11 of the Act. One member, Mr Charles Warton, questioned whether Labouchere's amendment had anything to do with the original intent of the bill: the prohibition of sexual assault against young women, and prostitution. Speaker Arthur Peel responded that under procedural rules any amendment was permitted as long as Parliament permitted it.
In the summer of 1885, Pall Mall Gazette editor W. T. Stead published an article denouncing the ease with which young girls could be “bought” on the street. “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” articles Stead produced elicited a storm of moral criticism from the public. Lord Salisbury’s Tory government introduced the Criminal Law Amendment bill. The bill was meant to protect women from brothels and prostitution, raising the age of consent for women from 13 to 16. Stead, who had found a girl on the street as a means to support his argument, was actually arrested and imprisoned for two months.
Liberal MP for Northampton Henry Labouchere, or Labby to his intimates, had been a diplomat; he now was the founding editor of Truth magazine, whose effective purpose was to expose corruption and moral degeneration. In 1882, Labouchere met Wilde in America; Wilde praised him as the “best writer in Europe”, though Labourchere criticized Wilde as an “effeminate phrasemaker”. Stead had written Labouchere from jail, telling of the rise in male prostitution in London and other large cities. Concerned, Labouchere presented his infamous amendment towards the end of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill as it passed from bill to law. This amendment outlawed male homosexual activity, while ignoring lesbian activity. This law led to many convictions against male homosexuals; many thousands either prison or else the mental anguish of being persecuted. A number committed suicide.
In April 1870, Ernest Boulton and Fredrick Park, “Stella” and “Fanny” respectively were arrested for wearing drag outside the Strand Theater. They were charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sodomy” with Lord Arthur Clinton. However, since there was no evidence of semen on their rectums, the charges did not stick
Labouchere was concerned with a supposed rise in male sexual activity. Sir Howard Vincent, 1878-1884’s Director of Criminal Investigations at Scotland Yard, had called homosexual acts a modern “scourge”. The Yokel’s Preceptor, a contemporary magazine, said this: “The increase of these monsters in the shape of men, commonly designated margeries, poofs etc., of late years, in the great Metropolis, renders it necessary for the safety of the public that they should be made known…Will the reader credit it, but such is nevertheless the fact, that these monsters actually walk the street the same as the whores, looking out for a chance? Yes, the Quadrant, Fleet Street, Holborn, the Strand etc., are actually thronged with them! Nay, it is not long since, in the neighborhood of Charing Cross, they posted bills in the windows of several public houses, cautioning the public to “Beware of Sods!”.
Hysteria over gays was at a peak during the time, though the contemporary morality was already beginning to question the ethics of homosexual activity. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German lawyer, in the 1860’s produced literature in favour of love between men. Calling it Uranian love, he even considered it to be a higher form of love than common heterosexual love. Similarly, John Addington Symonds, an English poet, published A problem in Greek Ethics in 1883. It was subtitled “An Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion addressed especially to medical psychologists and jurists”. He argued for the Grecian pedirestia, and claimed the modern era could rethink its values. Symonds was disgusted by the Section 11, arguing, amongst other things, that it would only facilitate blackmail against gays. Furthermore, the Section included a vague clause which allowed for the persecution of anyone who played “party to the commission of” gross indecency. This clause, Symonds noticed, served essentially as a conspiracy charge, allowing for a broader pool of convictions.
Labouchere, inspired to action by the modern question over sexual norms, pushed for persecution against deviants. He originally wanted a 7-year minimum sentence of hard labour for, but the Home Sectraty and Attorney General persuaded this down to 2 years. The former Attorney-General, Sir Henry James, while supporting the amendment, objected to the leniency of the sentence, and wanted to increase the penalty to two years' hard labour. Labouchere agreed, and the amendment was passed.
"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 with an other male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.
As a result of the vagueness of the term "gross indecency," this law allowed juries, judges and lawyers to prosecute virtually any male homosexual behaviour where it could not be proven that the defendant had specifically engaged in homosexual anal intercourse, also known as sodomy or "buggery". The sentence was relatively light compared to the penalty for anal sodomy, which remained a separate crime. Lawyers dubbed section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the "blackmailer's charter".
Oscar Wilde 
It was famously invoked to convict Oscar Wilde in 1895. Wilde was given the most severe sentence possible under the Act, which the judge described as "totally inadequate for a case such as this". Wilde had had affairs with Harry Marrilier and Douglas Ainslie, amongst other men. He would attack this new criminilization of gay behavior in his novel The Picture of Dorian Grey: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful”. Wilde was accused of soliciting over twelve boys between 1892 and 1894, and eventually was sentenced to 2 years hard labour. From prison, Wilde would further condemn the new laws, calling the battle against persecution a “road… long and red with monstrous martyrdoms. He asserted that so-called “Uranian” love was “noble—more noble than other forms”.
Alan Turing 
Mathematician and early computer scientist Alan Turing was investigated for alleged violations of the Labouchere Amendment when the police discovered a male lover at his house after Turing reported a petty theft, commonly supposed to be a factor in Turing's subsequent suicide.
See also 
- Neumann, Caryn E. "The Labouchere Amendment". Retrieved 2012-02-25.
- Text of the 1885 Act, accessed 7 March 2012
- Kaplan, Morris B. (2005). Sodom on the Thames: sex, love, and scandal in Wilde times. Cornell University Press. p. 175.
- Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry, eds. (2003). Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II. Psychology Press. p. 298.
- Cohen, Ed (1993). Talk on the Wilde side: toward a genealogy of a discourse on male sexualities. Psychology Press. p. 92.
- Hansard report of the debate
- McKenna, Neil (2006). The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. pp. 76–81.
- David, Hugh (1997). On Queer Street: a social history of British homosexuality, 1895-1995. London: HarperCollins. p. 17. ISBN 0-00-638451-X.
- Lex Scripta
- Wilde, Oscar. (2010). The Picture of Dorian Gray. Collins Classics. P. 75
- Ellmann, Richard. (1988). Oscar Wilde. First Vintage Books Edition p. 443-444.
- Holland, Merlin. (2004). The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. Harper Collins Publishers Inc. p. xxxvi.