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10 landmark laws that changed the game for LGBTQ equality in the UK

From 'The Alan Turing Law' to The Civil Partnership Act to The Equality Act!

2021-02-25

Words: Karen Holden

It’s been more than half a century since the decriminalisation of homosexuality started.

It all kicked off in 1967 with the Sexual Offences Act - the law that started to recognise LGBTQ rights. Since this monumental move there has been some incredible progress.

To celebrate the achievements of the community to date, here is a countdown from Karen Holden - an LGBTQ lawyer and founder of A City Law Firm - of some the UK's most game-changing laws...

10 Alan Turing law (The Policing and Crime Act 2017)

Although this law can’t remove the horrific wrongdoings of the past, it’s a reflection of how far we have come as a society. It serves as an amnesty law, pardoning criminal convictions of men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

Mr Turing, the cryptographer who helped to break the German Enigma code who had previously been convicted of ‘gross indecency', is one historical figure granted a royal pardon.

9 The Association of British Insurers (ABI) Guide to Minimum Standards 2018

The new guidance removes the highly judgemental and stigmatising HIV discrimination and now reflects the considerable progress that has been made for those living with HIV over the last 30 years.

8 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008

A milestone for equal parental rights. This meant same-sex couples could be both named on the birth certificate as the legal parents of a child after using a known donor.

7 Civil Partnership Act 2004

Marked a significant change in the legal standing for LGBTQ couples. This meant now being able to register as legal partners, sharing property and having the ability to apply to the family courts for a fair resolution on separation.

6 Adoption and Children Act 2002

A huge step helping LGBTQ families really flourish, it was the first time same-sex couples were legally able to adopt. This also allowed many the right to be considered not just as a person who helped care for their partner’s child but as their actual legal parent too.

5 Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA)

This helped transform transgender people’s lives, providing for the first time a legal recognition allowing an individual to identify as something other than their assigned gender at birth, enabling them to change their gender legally.

4 Marriage (same-sex couples) Act in 2013

It’s a big deal that finally same-sex love was recognised as equal in name, allowing same-sex couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies (where the religious organisation has 'opted in' to conduct such ceremonies and the minister of religion agrees).

The first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales on 29 March 2014.

3 Equal age of consent

Since 1967, the UK’s male homosexual age of consent had been set at 21, even though for opposite-sex couples the age of consent was 16. It was a long process - in 1994, the age of consent for men who have sex with men was reduced to 18, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the equal age of consent was finally secured. A huge step foward.

2 Human Rights Act 1998

This Act allowed for fundamental human rights, including the right not to be discriminated against for sexual orientation. It was later used to advance the rights of LGBTQ individuals for legal protection in a relationship.

1 The Equality Act 2010

Arguably one of the most important laws in LGBTQ history so far. This landmark act added gender reassignment as a ‘protected characteristic’ and offered a tool to fight and promote protection against LGBTQ harassment, unfavourable treatment and discrimination.

Case law continued to evolve after this focal Act against discrimination against perceived sexual orientation and those diagnosed with HIV and Aids. It was a drastic move to bridge the gap of there being separate laws to instead promote a genuine equality for the LGBTQ community and many other minority groups collectively.


Karen Holden (Photo by David Harrison)

"We can look forward to further progress" - Holden on the future of LGBTQ legal equality

"All these changes have helped improve the lives of the LGBTQ community, resulting in the right to alternative family structures, from same-sex marriage to adoption and surrogacy for same-sex couples being made more accessible. Also, the protection against discrimination both in and outside the workplace, against neighbours or providers altering the way they approach members of the LGBTQ community. It has celebrated pardons being granted.

"We can also look forward to further progress in the future as well, such as blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men being relaxed across the UK. (Changes should be implemented by July 2021.)

"It’s important to celebrate how far LGBTQ rights have progressed and to also acknowledge there’s still a way to go to remove biases and to reach genuine equality.

"There are many changes needed for greater equality. For example, surveys and soft supervision by the EU will be lost on LGBTQ laws and rights - so the UK needs to put in place its own protections.

"The gender recognition process removing a mandatory medical diagnosis was to be removed and is still needed. Although LBGTQ education in schools was recently made mandatory there continues to be resistance from some parents and religious campaign groups. This means that how this education is to be implemented remains uncertain. Laws around this, to provide a framework for this contentious area would be welcome.

"We have come a very long way and things are slowly evolving, but there is still more to do, and attitudes left to modify."