The 1967 Sexual Offences Act

The law viewed heterosexuality and homosexuality in diametrically opposing ways.

Heterosexuality was considered to be broadly legal except if certain boundaries were crossed. Homosexuality between men was considered to be illegal unless it took place within carefully defined circumstances. The 1967 Act did not make gay sex legal - it became "no longer unlawful". It introduced the phrase "consenting male adults in private". "Adult" meant over 21.

In 1967, the Act only applied to England and Wales. Scotland came into line in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1981. The Isle of Man took until 1992.

The definition of privacy used in the Act was bizarre and meant that technically none of the following were private for gay men: -

  • a locked hotel bedroom
  • a locked car in isolated, secluded woodland
  • Being with your own partner in your own bedroom in your own house, when another man is present in another part of your house.
    • It is well known that this peculiar definition has repercussions in institutionalised accommodation such as prisons. Few people have considered that it also applied to residential homes for people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities as well as old people's homes. When the current generation of gay couples who are "out" and happy about their sexuality may need to go into residential homes in their old age, this will pose a technical problem. Apparently there has been no change in the definition of "privacy", but it has been stated that no prosecution based on these definitions would now succeed.

      The unequal age of consent criminalized many men in their late teens who would otherwise be considered fit to vote, fit to marry and fit to die for their country in war time.

      In pubs and clubs heterosexuals can "chat each other up". For gay men, this could have been considered "soliciting for immoral purposes in a public place". They may be consenting and adult, but the process which eventually leads to sex could still be illegal.

      The change in the law produced little in the way of immediate gains. The new law was so flawed that prosecutions continued on a large scale - in fact, they increased. The law did little to counter society's attitudes and the numerous areas of discrimination which still remained. Though the 1967 Act did not involve lesbians, discrimination and negative attitudes certainly did.

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