On this day….27 July 1967

A photo of the statue of justice that sits atop the Old Bailey in London

This post was first published on 20/07/2021.

Author: Sandy Dutczak, IALS Digital Projects and Publications Manager.

Sexual Offences Act 1967

After several attempts to introduce homosexual reform, Lord Arran introduced the Bill in the House of Lords in May 1966. As soon as the Bill passed, Leo Abse MP introduced it into the House of Commons under a ten minute rule procedure, with the support of the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. A standing committee was set up to consider amendments and after an intense night of debates, at the third reading, the Bill was passed 101 votes to 16. After passing all stages in both houses, the bill received Royal Assent on 27 July 1967.

The Act permitted homosexual acts between two consenting adults over the age of twenty-one. Whilst the Act was a considerable milestone in achieving homosexual law reform, for the LGBT community was far from being achieved. Restrictions were placed on what was considered private and the Act only applied to England and Wales. It would take a number of years for Parliament to fully legalise homosexuality.

Source UK Parliament

Background to the Act

1885 Labouchere Amendment

In 1885, homosexuality was only illegal with regard to the act of buggery, for which the punishment was to be kept in penal servitude for life. This changed when Henry Labouchere, Liberal MP for Northampton and strong opponent of homosexuality, introduced Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act which made all homosexual acts of ‘gross indecency’ illegal. The bill was primarily concerned with the protection of women and girls by increasing the age of consent and yet this small section in the Act was a pivotal change in homosexual legislation.

It was under this Act that Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing, among many others, were convicted and punished for committing homosexual acts. By 1954 the number of men imprisoned by virtue of Section 11 had risen to over 1,000 per year.

The Wolfenden Report

In August 1954 the Government set up the Wolfenden Committee, named after its chairman, John Wolfenden. The report was published on 5 September 1957 and attracted a large amount of publicity. The report proposed that there

must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business

and recommended that homosexual acts between two consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence. The report’s findings were debated in Parliament but a motion in 1960 to implement the report’s findings was lost and efforts to implement the report’s findings were stalled.

Source UK Parliament

Further reading

The Sexual Offences Act 1967

Sexual Offences Act 1967: 50th Anniversary

Library Briefing from the House of Lords

Papers of the Homosexual Law Reform Society

The Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) was formed in 1958 to campaign for the Government to implement reforms recommended by the Wolfenden Report.

Queer Between the Covers

Queer Between the Covers presents a history of radical queer publishing and literature from 1880 to the modern day. Chronicling the gay struggle for acceptance and liberation, this book demonstrates how the fight for representation was often waged secretly between the covers of books at a time when public spaces for queer identities were limited.

The chapters provide an array of voices and histories – from the famous, Derek Jarman and Oscar Wilde, to the lesser-known and underappreciated John Wieners and Valerie Taylor. It includes first-hand accounts of seminal moments in queer history, including the birth of Hazard Press and the Defend Gay’s the Word Bookshop campaign in the 1980s.