LGBT rights in the United Kingdom
|LGBT rights in the|
Location of the United Kingdom
|Same-sex sexual intercourse legal status||Always legal for women; decriminalised for men in:|
1967 (England and Wales)
1982 (Northern Ireland)
Age of consent equalised in 2001 (and reduced to 16 years in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK in 2009)
|Gender identity/expression||Right to change legal gender since 2005|
|Military service||Allowed to serve openly since 2000|
|Discrimination protections||Sexual orientation and gender identity protections since 2010|
|Same-sex marriage since 2014 (England and Wales; Scotland)|
Civil partnerships since 2005 (nationwide)
|Same-sex marriages are not recognised or performed in Northern Ireland|
|Adoption||Joint and stepchild adoption since|
2005 (England and Wales)
2013 (Northern Ireland)
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have evolved dramatically over time.
Before and during the formation of the United Kingdom, Christianity and homosexuality clashed. Same-sex sexual activity was characterised as "sinful" and, under the Buggery Act 1533, was outlawed and punishable by death. LGBT rights first came to prominence following the decriminalisation of sexual activity between men, in 1967 in England and Wales, and later in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sexual activity between women was never subject to the same legal restriction.
Since the turn of the 21st century, LGBT rights have increasingly strengthened in support. Some discrimination protections had existed for LGBT people since 1999, but were extended to all areas under the Equality Act 2010. In 2000, Her Majesty's Armed Forces removed its ban on LGBT individuals serving openly. The age of consent was equalised, regardless of sexual orientation, in 2001 at 16 in England, Scotland and Wales. The age of consent was lowered to 16 in Northern Ireland in 2009, previously it was 17 regardless of sexual orientation. Transgender people have had the right to change their legal gender since 2005. The same year, same-sex couples were granted the right to enter into a civil partnership, a similar legal structure to marriage, and also to adopt in England and Wales. Scotland later followed on adoption rights for same-sex couples in 2009, and Northern Ireland in 2013. Same-sex marriage was legalised in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014, but remains unavailable in Northern Ireland where it is recognised solely as a civil partnership.
Today, LGBT citizens have most of the same legal rights as non-LGBT citizens and the UK provides one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world for its LGBT communities. In ILGA-Europe's 2015 review of LGBTI rights, the UK received the highest score in Europe, with 86% progress toward "respect of human rights and full equality" for LGBT people and 92% in Scotland alone. Recent polls have indicated that a majority of British people support same-sex marriage, and 76% of the UK agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll. Additionally, the UK currently holds the world record for having the most out LGBTI people in Parliament with 45 out LGBTI MPs elected at the 2017 election.
A 2010 Integrated Household Survey estimated 1.5% of people in the UK identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual – far lower than previous estimates of 5–7%. Interpreting the statistics, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) spokesperson said, "Someone may engage in sexual behaviour with someone of the same sex but still not perceive themselves as gay." According to YouGov, however, studies such as that of the Integrated Household Survey underestimate the true proportion of the population that is LGBT as they use a face-to-face methodology, and non-heterosexual people are less willing to disclose their sexual orientation to an interviewer. YouGov itself estimates, based on its panel, which was inquired via an online questionnaire, that the proportion of LGBT people in the UK is 7%. It is also estimated that the trans population of the UK is between 300,000 and 500,000 people, but Stonewall concludes that it is hard to define the LGBT population of the UK because some LGBT people are not out. LGBT rights organisations and very large LGBT communities have been built across the UK, most notably in Brighton, which is widely regarded as the UK's unofficial "gay capital", with other large communities in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh, which all have gay villages and host annual pride festivals.
- 1 Same-sex sexual activity
- 2 Recognition of same-sex relationships
- 3 Adoption and family planning
- 4 Military service
- 5 Transgender rights
- 6 Intersex rights
- 7 Discrimination protections
- 8 Conversion therapy
- 9 Sex education
- 10 LGBT rights movement
- 11 Role of the European Union
- 12 Public opinion and demographics
- 13 Summary by legal jurisdiction and territory
- 14 Summary table
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
Same-sex sexual activity
Homosexuality as an offence
Decades before the formation of the modern United Kingdom in 1707, English law identified anal sex and zoophilia as offences punishable by hanging as a result of the Buggery Act 1533, which was pioneered by Henry VIII. The Act was the country's first civil sodomy law; such offences having previously been dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts. Whilst it was repealed in 1553 on the accession of Mary I, it was re-enacted in 1563 under Elizabeth I. James Pratt and John Smith were the last two to be executed for sodomy in 1835.
Although section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 removed the death penalty for homosexuality, male homosexual acts remained illegal and were punishable by imprisonment. The Labouchere Amendment, section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, extended the laws regarding homosexuality to include any kind of sexual activity between males. Oscar Wilde was convicted under this law and sentenced to 2 years of penal labour. Conversely, lesbians were never acknowledged or targeted by legislation.
In the early 1950s, the police actively enforced laws prohibiting sexual behaviour between men. By the end of 1954, there were 1,069 gay men in prison in England and Wales, with an average age of 37. There were a number of high-profile arrests and trials, including that of scientist, mathematician, and war-time code-breaker Alan Turing, convicted in 1952 of "gross indecency". He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing committed suicide in 1954. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in response to a petition, issued an apology on behalf of the British Government in 2009 for "the appalling way he was treated". In 1954, the trial and eventual imprisonment of Edward Montagu (the 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood for committing acts of "homosexual indecency" caused uproar and led to the establishment of a committee to examine and report on the law covering "homosexual offences" appointed by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth.
The Wolfenden Committee was set up on 24 August 1954 to consider UK law relating to "homosexual offences"; the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden report) was published on 3 September 1957. It recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence", finding that "homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects."
In October 1957, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, spoke in support of the Wolfenden Report, saying that "There is a sacred realm of privacy... into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude. This is a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of human freedom, self-respect, and responsibility." The first parliamentary debate on the Wolfenden Report was initiated on 4 December 1957 by Lord Pakenham. Of the seventeen peers who spoke in the debate, eight broadly supported the recommendations in the Wolfenden Report. Maxwell Fyfe, by then ennobled as Lord Kilmuir and serving as Lord Chancellor, speaking for the Government, doubted that there would be much public support for implementing the recommendations and stated that further research was required. The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded on 12 May 1958, mainly to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations.
Decriminalisation of homosexual acts
In 1965, Conservative peer Lord Arran proposed the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts (lesbian acts had never been illegal) in the House of Lords. This was followed by Humphry Berkeley in the House of Commons a year later, though Berkeley ascribed his defeat in the 1966 general election to the unpopularity of this action. However, in the newly elected Parliament, Labour MP Leo Abse took up the issue and the Sexual Offences Bill was put before Parliament in order to implement some of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations after almost ten years of campaigning.
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was accordingly passed and received royal assent on 27 July 1967 after an intense late night debate in the House of Commons. It maintained general prohibitions on buggery and indecency between men, but provided for a limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts where three conditions were fulfilled: 1) the act had to be consensual, 2) the act had to take place in private and 3) the act could involve only people that had attained the age of 21. This was a higher age of consent than that for heterosexual acts, which was set at 16. Further, "in private" limited participation in an act to two people. This condition was interpreted strictly by the courts, which took it to exclude acts taking place in a room in a hotel, for example, and in private homes where a third person was present (even if that person was in a different room). These restrictions were overturned by the European Court of Human Rights in 2000.
The 1967 Act extended only to England and Wales. Organisations such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front therefore continued to campaign for the goal of full equality in Scotland and Northern Ireland where all homosexual behaviour remained illegal. Same-sex sexual activities were legalised in Scotland on the same basis as in the 1967 Act, by section 80 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which came into force on 1 February 1981. An analogous amendment was also made to the law of Northern Ireland, following the determination of a case by the European Court of Human Rights (see Dudgeon v. United Kingdom); the relevant legislation was an Order in Council, the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which came into force on 8 December 1982.
Equal age of consent
In 1979, the Home Office Policy Advisory Committee's Working Party report, "Age of Consent in Relation to Sexual Offences", recommended that the age of consent for same-sex sexual activities be reduced from 21 to 18, but no such legislation was enacted as a result.
In February 1994, Parliament considered reform of the law on rape and other sexual offences during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Conservative MP Edwina Currie proposed an amendment to equalise the age of consent of same-sex sexual activities to 16. Currie's amendment was defeated by 307 votes to 280. Those who supported it included Tony Blair, John Smith, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown and William Hague. Those against included David Blunkett and Ann Taylor. There were angry scenes outside the Palace of Westminster at the defeat of the amendment, when those involved in a demonstration organised by the group OutRage! clashed with police. Another amendment proposed by Sir Anthony Durant suggested lowering the age of consent to 18, which passed by 427 votes to 162, and supporters included Michael Howard and John Major. It was opposed by such MPs as John Redwood, Michael Heseltine and John Gummer. An amendment proposed by Simon Hughes which was intended to equalise the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals to 17 was not voted upon. The bill as a whole was given a second reading in the Lords by 290 votes to 247. Lord Longford then sought to reintroduce 21 as the minimum age in the Lords, but this was defeated by 176 votes to 113. An amendment by the Deputy Labour Leader in the House of Lords, Lord MacIntosh of Haringey, that would have equalised the age of consent to 16, was rejected by 245 votes to 71.
In its decision of 1 July 1997, in the case of Sutherland v. United Kingdom, the European Commission of Human Rights found that Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated by a discriminatory age of consent, on the ground that there was no objective and reasonable justification for maintaining a higher minimum age for male homosexual acts. On 13 October 1997, the Government submitted to the European Court of Human Rights that it would propose a bill to Parliament for a reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from 18 to 16. On 22 June 1998, the Crime and Disorder Bill was put before Parliament. Ann Keen proposed amendments to lower the age of consent to 16. The House of Commons accepted these provisions with a majority of 207, but they were rejected by the House of Lords with a majority of 168. Subsequently, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill was introduced on 16 December 1998 and, again, the equalisation of the age of consent was endorsed on 25 January 1999 by the House of Commons, but was rejected on 14 April 1999 by the House of Lords. Those campaigning against the amendment claimed they were simply acting to protect children. Baroness Young, the leader of the campaign against the amendment, said, "Homosexual practices carry great health risks to young people."
The Government reintroduced the bill in 1999. With the prospect of it being passed by the Commons in two successive sessions of Parliament, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 were available to enact the bill should the Lords have rejected it a third time. The Lords passed the bill at second reading, but made an amendment during committee stage to maintain the age of consent for buggery at 18 for both sexes. However, as the bill had not completed its passage through the Lords at the end of the parliamentary session on 30 November 2000, then Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin certified that the procedure specified by the Parliament Acts had been complied with. The bill received royal assent a few hours later, and was enacted as the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. The provisions of the Act came into force throughout the UK on 8 January 2001, lowering the age of consent to 16. This Act also introduced, for the first time, an age of consent for lesbian sexual acts, as previously there had been no legislation concerning this.
On 1 May 2004, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 entered into force, which swept away all of the previous sex-specific legislation, including the 1967 Act, and introduced instead neutral offences. Thus, the previous conditions relating to privacy were removed, and sexual acts were viewed by the law without regard to the sex of the participants.
With the passage of the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, Northern Ireland, which had an age of consent of 17 regardless of one's sexual orientation, lowered the age to 16 in 2009 so it would match that of England, Wales, and Scotland.
Annulment of convictions
On 31 January 2017, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 went into effect after being given royal assent. A section of the Act known as the "Alan Turing law" officially gave posthumous pardons to the thousands of homosexual men from England and Wales who had been convicted under those regions' old sodomy laws, and gave those still living the possibility to apply to have their conviction erased. Disregards have been available since 2012, removing the conviction from the person's criminal records. Scotland passed a more comprehensive law in June 2018, with pardons being automatic for those still living. The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a similar law in 2016, with it taking effect on 28 June 2018. Applications for pardons must be made with the Northern Irish Department of Justice.
Merchant shipping repeal
In April 2017, the Parliament of the United Kingdom unanimously passed in both houses the Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Act 2017 into law. This private members bill was drafted by Conservative MP John Glen. This law repealed sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was labelled as the UK's "last anti-gay law". It went into effect immediately after royal assent.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
There was no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Britain until 2005, following the legalisation of civil partnerships under the passage of the Civil Partnership Act on 18 November 2004. Civil partnerships are a separate union which give most (but not all) of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, but there are recognition issues in other countries and with the use of courtesy titles. Civil partnerships can take place on any approved premise in the UK and in approved religious venues in England and Wales since 2011 (though religious venues are not compelled), but cannot include religious readings, music or symbols. The Civil Partnership Act came into effect on 5 December 2005.
The first civil partnership ceremony took place at 11:00 (GMT) on 5 December 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp at St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing, West Sussex. The usual 14-day waiting period was waived as Roche was suffering from a terminal illness. He died the next day. The first civil partnership ceremonies after the statutory waiting period then took place in Northern Ireland on 19 December, with ceremonies following the next day in Scotland and the day after that in England and Wales.
Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom has been the subject of wide debate since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. Previous legislation in England and Wales had prevented same-sex marriage, including the Marriage Act 1949 which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, the Nullity of Marriage Act 1971 which explicitly banned same-sex marriages, and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which reiterated the provisions of the Nullity of Marriage Act.
While civil partnerships were established nationwide, marriage law is a devolved matter in the United Kingdom and therefore the legislative procedure of same-sex marriage differs by jurisdiction. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which allows same-sex marriage in England and Wales, was passed by the UK Parliament in July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014, with the first same-sex marriages taking place on 29 March 2014. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, allowing same-sex marriage in Scotland, was passed by the Scottish Parliament in February 2014 and came into effect on 16 December 2014.
Same-sex marriages in the UK give all the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage and can be performed on approved premises. This also includes religious venues, providing the religious or belief body has opted in. However, no religious or belief body is compelled to perform same-sex marriages; the Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from doing so. For the purposes of the divorce of a same-sex marriage, the common law definition of adultery remains as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman only, although infidelity with a person of the same sex can be grounds for a divorce as "unreasonable behaviour." Non-consummation is also excluded as a ground for the annulment of a same-sex marriage.
In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not recognised or performed, following several votes against it by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Same-sex marriages performed in Great Britain and across the world are recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. Citing the Legislature's constant refusal to approve a marriage bill and the law that recognises marriages from other parts of the United Kingdom as civil partnerships, local LGBT rights groups announced that they will turn to the courts for the right to wed. In January 2015, a couple who married in England and reside in Northern Ireland, filed a lawsuit to have their marriage recognised in the region. On 2 November 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for a fifth time on the question of legalising same-sex marriage. Of the 105 MLAs who voted on a motion to recognise same-sex marriage, 53 MLAs votes in favour and 51 voted against, the first time a majority of the Assembly had ever voted in favour of same-sex marriage. However, the DUP again tabled a motion of concern, preventing the motion from having any legal effect. As a result, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced to the House of Lords on 27 March 2018, and the House of Commons the following day.
Adoption and family planning
Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, Parliament provided that an application to adopt a child in England and Wales could be made by either a single person or a couple. The previous condition that the couple be married was dropped, thus allowing a same-sex couple to apply. The Lords rejected the proposal on one occasion before it was passed. Supporters of the move in Parliament stressed that adoption was not a "gay rights" issue but one of providing as many children as possible with a stable family environment rather than seeing them kept in care. Opponents raised doubts over the stability of relationships outside marriage, and how instability would impact on the welfare of adopted children. However, the law was successfully passed and went into effect on 30 December 2005. Similar legislation was adopted in Scotland, which came into effect on 28 September 2009. Northern Ireland followed suit in December 2013.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 was given royal assent on 13 November 2008. The legislation allows for lesbians and their partners (both civil and de facto) equal access to legal presumptions of parentage in cases of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or assisted/self insemination (other than at home) from the moment the child is born. The law also allows both partners to be identified on the child's birth certificate by the words "parent".  The law came into force on 6 April 2009 and is not retroactive (it does not apply before that date). Parental orders for gay men and their partners since 6 April 2010 have been available for surrogacy arrangements.
Since 31 August 2009, legislation granting lesbians equal birth rights in England and Wales came into effect, meaning both can now be named on a child's birth certificate, amending the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation was criticised by those who believe it was "damaging the traditional notion of a family". Stonewall Head of Policy and Research Ruth Hunt said the new law makes life easier for lesbian families and stated "Now lesbian couples in the UK who make a considered decision to start a loving family will finally be afforded equal access to services they help fund as taxpayers". Home Office Minister Lord Brett was full of praise in his comments:
This positive change means that, for the first time, female couples who have a child using fertility treatment have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts to be shown as parents in the birth registration. It is vital that we afford equality wherever we can in society, especially as family circumstances continue to change. This is an important step forward in that process.
LGBT people have been allowed to serve openly in Her Majesty's Armed Forces since 2000, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been forbidden since 2010. It is also forbidden for someone to pressure LGBT people to come out. All personnel are subject to the same rules against intolerance, bullying and sexual harassment, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. The British military also recognises civil partnerships and grants same-sex couples the same rights to allowances and housing as opposite-sex couples.
The British military actively recruits LGBT people and have deployed recruiting teams to many Pride events: the Royal Navy advertises for recruits in gay magazines and has allowed gay sailors to hold civil partnership ceremonies on board ships and, since 2006, to march in full naval uniform at gay pride marches; British Army and Royal Air Force personnel could march but had to wear civilian clothes until 2008, now all military personnel are permitted to attend such marches in uniform.
The current policy was accepted at the lower ranks first, with many senior officers worrying for their troops without a modern acceptance of homosexuality that their personnel had grown up with. One Brigadier resigned but with little impact. Since the change, support at the senior level has grown. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff (head of the Army), told members of the Army-sponsored Fourth Joint Conference on LGBT Matters that homosexuals were welcome to serve in the Army. In a speech to the conference in 2008, the first of its kind by any Army chief, General Sir Richard said that respect for LGBT officers and soldiers was now "a command responsibility" and was vital for "operational effectiveness."
The British Army requires all soldiers to undergo Equality and Diversity training as part of their Military Annual Training Tests and stress tolerance, specifically citing homosexual examples in training videos, in line with the British Army Core Values and Standards, including "Respect for Others" and "Appropriate Behaviour." It considers its Core Values and standards as central to being a professional soldier.
In 2009, on the tenth anniversary of the change of law that permitted homosexuality in the Armed Forces, newspapers reported that the lifting of the ban had no perceivable impact on the operational effectiveness on the military. The anniversary was widely celebrated, including in the Army's in house publication Soldier Magazine, with a series of articles including the July 2009 cover story and newspapers articles.
In December 2002, the Lord Chancellor's office published a "Government Policy Concerning Transsexual People" document that categorically states that transsexualism "is not a mental illness."
Since 4 April 2005, as per the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it has been possible for transgender people to change their legal gender in the UK, allowing them to acquire a new birth certificate, affording them full recognition of their acquired sex in law for all purposes. Transgender people must present evidence to a Gender Recognition Panel, which considers their case and issues a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC); they must have transitioned two years before a GRC is issued. It is not a requirement for sex reassignment surgery to have taken place, although such surgery will be accepted as part of the supporting evidence for a case where it has taken place. There is formal approval of medical gender reassignment available either on the National Health Service (NHS) or privately.
However, there have been concerns regarding marriages and civil partnerships. Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, transgender people who are married have been required to divorce or annul their marriage in order for them to be issued with a GRC. The Government chose to retain this requirement in the Act as effectively it would have legalised a small category of same-sex marriages. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed the creation of civil partnerships between same-sex couples, but a married couple that includes a transgender partner cannot simply re-register their new status. They must first have their marriage dissolved, gain legal recognition of the new gender and then register for a civil partnership. This is like any divorce with the associated paperwork and costs.
With the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, existing marriages will continue where one or both parties change their legal gender and both parties wish to remain married. However, civil partnerships continue where only both parties change their gender simultaneously and wish to remain in their civil partnership. This restriction remains as effectively it would legalise a small category of opposite-sex civil partnerships. The legislation also does not restore any of the marriages of transgender people that were forcibly annulled as a precondition for them securing a GRC and states that a GRC will not be issued unless the spouse of the transgender person has consented. If the spouse does not consent, the marriage must be terminated before a GRC may be issued.
Intersex people in the United Kingdom face significant gaps, particularly in protection from non-consensual medical interventions, and protection from discrimination. Actions by intersex civil society organizations aim to eliminate unnecessary medical interventions and harmful practices, promote social acceptance, and equality in line with Council of Europe and United Nations demands.
Regulations were introduced for discrimination protections on sexual orientation in employment on 1 December 2003, following the adoption of an EC Directive in 2000, providing for the prohibition of discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999 provides a degree of protection for transgender people who are going "gender reassignment" in employment and vocational training.
On 30 April 2007, the Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force, following the introduction of similar provisions in Northern Ireland in January 2007. They provided a general prohibition of discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. Similar legislation had long previously been in force in respect of discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability and marital status. The introduction of the Regulations was controversial and a dispute arose between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales over exemptions for Catholic adoption agencies.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham declared his opposition to the Act, saying that the legislation contradicted the Catholic Church's moral values. Several Catholic adoption agencies requested exemption from sexual orientation regulations, and the adoption charity Catholic Care obtained a judgement on 17 March 2010 instructing the Charity Commission to reconsider its case. The Charity Commission again found no grounds to make an exception for Catholic Care, a decision upheld on appeal. In August 2011, the Upper Tribunal agreed to hear the charity's fourth appeal in the case. In November 2012, the appeal was dismissed by the Upper Tribunal, with the Tribunal ruling in favour of the Charity Commission. Catholic Care stated its intention to appeal the judgement.
In October 2007, the Government announced that it would seek to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act to create a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. This followed the creation of an offence on religious hatred that had proved controversial in 2006 (see Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006). Incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation was already illegal in Northern Ireland. Scotland encated similar legislation in 2009, which also includes gender identity as a protected ground.
The Equality Act 2010 received royal assent on 8 April 2010. The primary purpose of the Act was to codify the complicated and numerous array of Acts and Regulations, which formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in the UK including the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three major statutory instruments protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. This legislation has the same goals as the US Civil Rights Act 1964 and four major EU Equal Treatment Directives, whose provisions it mirrors and implements. It requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, belief and age. The Act amended the Approved Premises (Marriage and Civil Partnership) Regulations 2005 to allow civil partnership ceremonies on religious premises in England and Wales. It also extended transgender rights, banning discrimination by schools on the grounds of gender reassignment.
Other initiatives have included the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights on 1 October 2007 which is tasked with working for equality in all areas and replaced the previous commissions dedicated to sex, race and disability alone; the setting up of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Advisory Group within the Department of Health; a provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that a court must treat hostility based on sexual orientation as an aggravating factor for sentencing a person; guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service on dealing with homophobic crimes; and a commitment from the Government to work for LGBT rights at an international level.
The 1980s saw a setback for LGBT rights. The availability in the libraries of schools run by the Inner London Education Authority of a book considered by some to "promote" homosexuality led to protests and a campaign for new legislation. Consequently, in 1988, the Local Government Act included a provision prohibiting "the intentional promotion of homosexuality" by any local authority and "the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." The provision was known as Section 28, and amended section 2A of the earlier Local Government Act of 1986. Changes in the structure of local government since that date led to some confusion over the precise circumstances in which the new law applied, including the question of whether or not it applied at all in state schools.
Section 28 (called Section 2A in Scotland) was repealed in Scotland within the first two years of the existence of the Scottish Parliament, by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. A move to remove the provision in England and Wales was prevented following opposition in the House of Lords, led by the Baroness Young. Following her death in 2002, it was repealed by the Labour Government in a new Local Government Act, which took effect on 18 November 2003. During the passage of the bill, no attempt was made to retain the section and an amendment seeking to preserve it using ballots was defeated in the House of Lords. In June 2009, David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader, formally apologised for his party introducing the law, stating that it was a mistake and offensive to gay people.
Peel, Clarke and Drescher wrote in 2007 that only one organisation in Britain could be identified with conversion therapy, a religious organisation called "The Freedom Trust" (part of Exodus International): "whereas a number of organisations in the US (both religious and scientific/psychological) promote conversion therapy, there is only one in the UK of which we are aware". The paper reported that practitioners who did provide these sorts of treatments between the 1950s and 1970s now view homosexuality as healthy, and the evidence suggests that 'conversion therapy' is a historical rather than a contemporary phenomenon in Britain, where treatment for homosexuality has always been less common than in the US.
In 2007, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the main professional organisation of psychiatrists in Britain, issued a report stating that: "Evidence shows that LGBT people are open to seeking help for mental health problems. However, they may be misunderstood by therapists who regard their homosexuality as the root cause of any presenting problem such as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, therapists who behave in this way are likely to cause considerable distress. A small minority of therapists will even go so far as to attempt to change their client's sexual orientation. This can be deeply damaging. Although there are now a number of therapists and organisations in the USA and in the UK that claim that therapy can help homosexuals to become heterosexual, there is no evidence that such change is possible."
In 2008, the Royal College of Psychiatrists stated: "The Royal College shares the concern of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that positions espoused by bodies like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in the United States are not supported by science. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore so-called treatments of homosexuality as recommended by NARTH create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
In 2009, a research survey into mental health practitioners in the United Kingdom concluded that "a significant minority of mental health professionals are attempting to help lesbian, gay and bisexual clients to become heterosexual. Given lack of evidence for the efficacy of such treatments, this is likely to be unwise or even harmful." Scientific American reported on this: "One in 25 British psychiatrists and psychologists say they would be willing to help homosexual and bisexual patients try to convert to heterosexuality, even though there is no compelling scientific evidence a person can willfully become straight", and explained that 17% of those surveyed said they had tried to help reduce or suppress homosexual feelings, and 4% said they would try to help homosexual people convert to heterosexuality in the future.
Conversion therapy remains legal in the UK, and has been described by the BBC as "a fiercely contested topic" and part of a larger "culture war" within the UK. In July 2018, the UK Government announced as part of their LGBT Action Plan that they will "bring forward proposals" to ban conversion therapy.
The Equality Act 2010's Public Sector Equality Duty provision requires that information regarding bullying based on, among other things, LGBT identity be published and that solutions be found concerning how to counter this issue. The first information regarding schools and pupils located in England and English-governed public authorities in Scotland and Wales were published on 6 April 2012. In 2013, Ofsted published guidelines concerning how to counter homophobic and transphobic bullying at schools in England. Part of these guidelines included sex and relationships education for LGBT pupils.
On 12 February 2018, the Church of England's Education Office published a policy endorsing sex education which includes, among other things, LGBT education. Concerning sexuality, the policy states "sex education should include an understanding that all humans are sexual beings and that sexual desire is natural. Pupils should be taught that humans express their sexuality differently and that there is diversity in sexual desire". The policy also states that "pupils must be allowed to explore questions of identity and how we value our own identity and the uniqueness of other people. PSHE must help pupils recognise their true identity, and teach them that our media-framed, market-driven culture that often leads to body image anxiety can be challenged. This issue is the focus of the Bishop of Gloucester’s #liedentity campaign which aims to challenge negative body image and encouraging young people to look within to discover true value and beauty."
In July 2018, Education Minister Damian Hinds announced new government regulations concerning sex education. Topics such as mental wellbeing, consent, keeping safe online, physical health and fitness, and LGBT issues will be covered under the new guidelines, which are the first changes to sex education regulations since 2000, and which will be mandatory in all primary and secondary schools in England from September 2020 onwards. The move was welcomed by LGBT groups in particular, who cited statistics showing that only 13% of LGBT youth had been taught about healthy same-sex relationships in schools. In addition, parents will retain certain rights to veto sex education lessons, but by the age of 16, the child may attend the lessons regardless of the parents' whishes. Public consultation on this issue is currently open until November 2018. The draft guidance states: "By the end of primary school, pupils should know that others' families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children's families are also characterised by love and care for them." The guidance for secondary schools adds: "Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way... All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality."
This followed reports of some religious schools deliberately avoiding the issue, most notably an Orthodox Jewish school in north London which in 2018 had removed all references to the homosexual victims of Nazi persecution throughout their textbooks. According to the Department of Education, faith-based schools would no longer have a right to opt out of sex education lessons. In September 2018, the UK's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, agreed to comply with this new policy and published guidelines on how to teach LGBT sex education in British Jewish schools. In October 2018, however, The Sunday Times reported that the British Government had decided to grant exemptions to private schools from LGBT-inclusive education.
Wales similarly announced new regulations about sex education in May 2018, which will also discuss LGBT issues in schools. The regulations, expected to come into force in 2022, will be mandatory from Year 7 (age 11-12).
The Scottish National Party's 2016 manifesto supports sex education classes, as well as "equality training" for teachers, that would cover LGBT issues. In November 2018, the Scottish Government announced the implementation of LGBT-inclusive education in the Scottish school curriculum. The move was welcomed by LGBT activists who cited studies that have found that about 9 in 10 LGBT Scots experience homophobia at school, and 27% reported they had attempted suicide after being bullied.
Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education Children's Services and Skills) assesses the inclusion of LGBT people in policies and the curriculum.
LGBT rights movement
The Homosexual Law Reform Society, founded on 12 May 1958, in response to the findings of the Wolfenden Report was one of the first LGBT groups in the UK. Nowadays, Stonewall exists as the largest LGBT equality organisation in the UK and Europe.
LGBT people have been serving openly in politics since the 1970s. The first openly lesbian MP was Maureen Colquhoun (Labour Party, MP 1974–79), who was outed in 1976. LGBT people are also allowed to serve openly in police and, in 1990, the Lesbian and Gay Police Association (LAGPA), now the Gay Police Association (GPA), was founded.
There are also large LGBT communities most noted in Birmingham (Birmingham Gay Village), Blackpool, Brighton (LGBT community of Brighton and Hove), Liverpool (LGBT culture in Liverpool), London (Old Compton Street) and Manchester (Canal Street), who all host annual pride festivals. The neighbouring Yorkshire towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge have high lesbian populations.
Many pride festivals are hosted in the UK every year. The first gay marches were in London in 1970, followed by the debut of the UK Gay Pride Rally there in 1972. Pride in London is the biggest and oldest festival, and has been organised annually since. Pride festivals are very popular summer events in major cities, and have expanded to smaller communities in recent years.
Role of the European Union
According to Juris Lavrikovs from ILGA-Europe, the European Union has been a positive force for LGBT rights, especially with regards to decriminalising same-sex consensual activity, barring discrimination against transgender individuals in employment, equalising the age of consent, enabling LGBT people to serve openly in the military, allowing transgender people the right to marry, employment equality and the including pension right for transgender individuals.
Public opinion and demographics
In 1993, Stonewall conducted a survey of gay men and lesbians at work where they found two-thirds of respondents hid their sexuality at work and only 11% of respondents never hid their sexual orientation in the workplace. A follow up survey done in 2008 found that 20% of gay and lesbian people had experienced bullying at work.
An illustration of social attitudes towards homosexuality in the UK was provided in May 2007 in a survey by YouGov. The poll indicated that legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was supported by 90% of British citizens. It also showed positive public perceptions of gay people in particular, but recognised the extent to which prejudice still exists. A poll in June 2009 conducted by Populus for The Times reported that the majority of the public supports same-sex marriage; 61% of respondents agreed that "Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships". There were few differentials by partisanship.
In 2017, 108,000 people participated in the National LGBT Survey, making it one of the biggest survey of LGBT people in the world. LGBT people were found to be less satisfied with life compared to the wider UK population, with trans satisfaction notably lower. 68% of respondents said they avoided holding hands with their same-sex partner in public. 5% of respondents had been offered conversion therapy, with 2% undergoing such therapies. The findings from the National LGBT Survey have been used to inform a 75-point LGBT Action Plan to address the key issues identified, including bringing forward proposals to ban conversion therapy in the UK.
Summary by legal jurisdiction and territory
|LGBT rights in:||Same-sex sexual activity||Gender recognition||Recognition of same-sex unions||Same-sex marriage||Same-sex adoption||Military service||Official pardon||Anti-discrimination (sexual orientation)||Anti-discrimination (gender identity)||Other|
|England and Wales||Legal since 1967; age of consent equalised in 2001||Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004||Civil partnership since 2005||Legal since 2014||Legal since 2005||Since 2000||Since 2017 (Disregards available since 2012)||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of gender identity||Section 28 banning "promotion of same-sex relationships as a pretend family relationship" repealed in 2003|
|Scotland||Legal since 1981; age of consent equalised in 2001||Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004||Civil partnership since 2005||Legal since 2014||Legal since 2009||Since 2000||Since 2018 (Disregards also available)||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of gender identity||Section 2A banning "promotion of same-sex relationships as a pretend family relationship" repealed in 2000|
|Northern Ireland||Legal since 1982; age of consent equalised in 2001||Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004||Civil partnership since 2005||Legal since 2013||Since 2000||Since 2018 (Disregards also available)||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation||/ Bans discrimination on the grounds of gender identity in employment and vocational training||N/A|
|LGBT rights in:||Same-sex sexual activity||Gender recognition||Recognition of same-sex unions||Same-sex marriage||Same-sex adoption||Military service||Anti-discrimination (sexual orientation)||Anti-discrimination (gender identity)|
|Guernsey||Legal since 1983; age of consent equalised in 2012||Since 2007, only allows a new birth certificate to be issued. Does not amend or remove records of existing birth certificates, extension to Alderney and Sark unclear|| Since 2012 in Guernsey and 2016 in Alderney
Not legal in Sark
| Legal since 2017 in Guernsey and 2018 in Alderney
Not legal in Sark
|Legal since 2017||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of "gender reassignment"|
|Isle of Man||Legal since 1992; age of consent equalised in 2006||Under the Gender Recognition Act 2009||Civil partnership since 2011||Legal since 2016||Legal since 2011||UK responsible for defence||Will ban all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation from July 2019||Will ban all discrimination on the grounds of "gender reassignment" from July 2019|
|Jersey||Legal since 1990; age of consent equalised in 2006||Under the Gender Recognition (Jersey) Law 2010||Civil partnership since 2012||Legal since 2018||Legal since 2012||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of "gender reassignment"|
|LGBT rights in:||Same-sex sexual activity||Recognition of same-sex unions||Same-sex marriage||Same-sex adoption||Military service||Anti-discrimination (sexual orientation)||Anti-discrimination (gender identity)|
|Anguilla||Legal since 2001||UK responsible for defence|
|Akrotiri and Dhekelia||Legal since 2000||Legal since 2014||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Bermuda|| Legal since 1994
(Age of consent discrepancy)
|Domestic partnership since 2018||Legal between May 2017 and May 2018||Legal since 2015||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|British Antarctic Territory||Legal||Legal since 2016||UK responsible for defence|
|British Indian Ocean Territory||Legal||Legal since 2014||UK responsible for defence|
|British Virgin Islands||Legal since 2001||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Cayman Islands|| Legal since 2001
(Age of consent discrepancy)
|/ (Recognised for immigration purposes since 2016)||(Constitutional ban since 2009)||UK responsible for defence|
|Falkland Islands||Legal since 1989||Civil partnership since 2017||Legal since 2017||Legal since 2017||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Gibraltar||Legal since 1993; age of consent equalised in 2012||Civil partnership since 2014||Legal since 2016||Legal since 2014||UK responsible for defence||/ Bans some discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (Banning all discrimination proposed)||(Proposed)|
|Montserrat||Legal since 2001||(Constitutional ban since 2010)||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Pitcairn Islands||Legal since 2001||Legal since 2015||Legal since 2015||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha||Legal since 2001||Legal since 2017||Legal since 2017||UK responsible for defense||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands||Legal||Legal since 2014||UK responsible for defence|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Legal since 2001||(Constitutional ban since 2011)||UK responsible for defence||Bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation|
|Same-sex sexual activity|
|Same-sex sexual acts legal||Since 1967 (England and Wales)|
Since 1981 (Scotland)
Since 1982 (Northern Ireland)
|Equal age of consent for same-sex and opposite-sex sexual acts||Since 2001|
|Homosexuality declassified as an illness|
|Official pardon||Since 2017 (England and Wales)|
Since 2018 (Scotland, and Northern Ireland)
|Disregards available||Since 2012 (England and Wales)|
Since 2018 (Scotland, and Northern Ireland)
|Civil partnerships for same-sex couples[note 1]||Since 2005|
|Civil partnerships in religious venues||/||Since 2011 (England and Wales)|
Since 2014 (Scotland)
Not permitted (Northern Ireland)
|Civil and religious same-sex marriage[note 2]||/||Since 2014 (England and Wales)|
Since 2014 (Scotland)
Not permitted (Northern Ireland)
|Adoption and family planning|
|Joint and stepchild adoption for LGBT persons and same-sex couples||Since 2005 (England and Wales)|
Since 2009 (Scotland)
Since 2013 (Northern Ireland)
|Equal access to IVF for all couples and individuals||Since 2009|
|Same-sex couples as both parents on a birth certificate||Since 2009|
|Altruistic surrogacy for all couples and individuals||Since 2010|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples||Banned for heterosexual couples as well|
|LGBT people allowed to serve openly in military||Since 2000|
|Transsexualism declassified as an illness||Since 2002|
|Right to change legal gender||Since 2005|
|Right to change legal gender without having to end marriage[note 3]||/||Since 2014 (England and Wales)|
Since 2014 (Scotland)
Not permitted (Northern Ireland)
|Anti-discrimination laws in all areas on sexual orientation and gender identity (including employment, goods and services, housing, etc.)||/||Since 2010 (England and Wales, and Scotland)|
Only limited protections for gender identity in Northern Ireland
|Laws against hate speech based on sexual orientation||Since 2004 (Northern Ireland)|
Since 2008 (England and Wales)
Since 2009 (Scotland)
|Laws against hate speech based on gender identity||/||Since 2009 (Scotland)|
No laws exist (England and Wales, and Northern Ireland)
|Laws against inciting hatred on sexual orientation through an aggravating circumstance||Since 2004 (Northern Ireland)|
Since 2008 (England and Wales)
Since 2009 (Scotland)
|Laws against inciting hatred on gender identity through an aggravating circumstance||/||Since 2009 (Scotland)|
No laws exist (England and Wales, and Northern Ireland)
|LGBT sex education and relationships taught in schools||/||Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), which includes sex and relationships, will become compulsory in England in September 2020|
Compulsory for all schools in Scotland from 2018, and Wales from 2022
Schools in England must comply with the Equality Act 2010's Public Sector Equality Duty (2012) which includes LGBT equality
Ofsted assesses the inclusion of LGBT people in policies and the curriculum
|MSMs allowed to donate blood||/||3 month deferral required in England, Scotland and Wales since 2017. 1 year deferral required in Northern Ireland since 2016.|
|Conversion therapy banned||Pending|
|Immigration equality and rights for LGBT individuals and same-sex couples||Since 2006|
|Recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity for asylum requests||/||Guidelines not applied consistently|
Some cases recognised since 1999 including that of HJ and HT v Home Secretary
Plans for guidance on asylum claims brought on by sexual orientation but not gender identity
- Civil partnerships give most (but not all) of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, but there are recognition issues in other countries and with the use of courtesy titles. Civil partnerships can take place on any approved premise in the UK and in approved religious venues in Great Britain (though religious venues are not compelled), but cannot include religious readings, music or symbols. Adultery and non-consummation are also not grounds for the dissolution of a civil partnership.
See: "Civil Partnership Act 2004" and "Civil partnership in the United Kingdom"
- Same-sex marriages give all the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage and can be performed on approved premises and religious venues in Great Britain (though no religious or belief body is compelled). Adultery and non-consummation are not grounds for divorce.
See: "Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013", "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014" and "Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom"
- Existing marriages continue where one or both parties change their legal gender and both parties wish to remain married. Civil partnerships continue where only both parties change their gender simultaneously and wish to remain in their civil partnership.
See: "Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013", "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014" and "Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom"
- Timeline of LGBT history in Britain
- Gay Rights Working Party—1980s work in London to combat discrimination and police abuse
- Hall–Carpenter Archives
- History of violence against LGBT people in the United Kingdom
- Human rights in the United Kingdom
- Intersex rights in the United Kingdom
- LGBT Humanists UK
- LGBT Network
- LGBT rights by country or territory
- LGBT rights in Northern Ireland
- LGBT rights in Scotland
- LGBT rights in the Commonwealth of Nations
- Sexual orientation and military service
- Stonewall (charity)
- Transgender rights in the United Kingdom
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to LGBT in the United Kingdom.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to LGBT history in the United Kingdom.|
- LGBT History Month United Kingdom website
- GLBTQ website article on the history of LGBT life in the United Kingdom from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century.
- GLBTQ website article on the history of LGBT life in the United Kingdom from 1900 to the present.
- Comprehensive UK and International LGBT news website
- (UK) LGBT History Project's Wiki