Christopher Kimber and Morgane Donse

Desk Officer, Democracy and Equality Team / Head of International, Evidence and Engagement, LGBT Equality (Government Equalities Office)

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

Part of FCDO Human Rights FCDO Outreach

27th July 2017 London, UK

Sexual Offences Act: 50 years on

Today marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, an important milestone in the UK’s own journey to full equality for LGBT people.

Same-sex relations between men were against the law in England and Wales until 1967, when The Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between two men aged 21 or over. Although the law was not changed for Scotland until 1980 or for Northern Ireland until 1982, and did not fully decriminalise homosexuality for all men, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act marked an important starting point in the legislative journey towards full equality for LGBT people in the UK.

But progress often takes time. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 equalised the age of consent at 16. And same-sex marriage only became lawful in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014.

Since the Sexual Offences Act 50 years ago, much progress has been made to secure rights for LGBT people not just in the UK, but across the world. But there is still work to do, and the UK Government is committed to taking action – both domestically and internationally – to deliver for LGBT people.

Earlier this year ‘Turing’s Law’ was passed, posthumously pardoning men convicted of these now abolished offences, and just this week the UK Government announced new action to promote LGBT equality. This included reducing the deferral blood donation period for men who have sex with men from 12 months to 3 months, increasing the supply of donor blood available for life-saving operations. We’ve also announced a nationwide LGBT survey, which will allow LGBT people living in the UK to share their experiences of accessing and using public services in the UK and any experiences of discrimination they may have faced throughout their life.

Our diplomatic missions across the world are busy protecting and promoting LGBT rights – lobbying for equality, supporting LGBT Human Rights Defenders, taking part in Pride events. Some are even able to conduct marriages of same-sex couples overseas.

We have been on a journey over many decades, of the progressive realisation of LGBT rights and still have more to do ourselves. We know that the process in many countries may be long and slow, and all too often punctuated by set-backs. But we must remain consistent and determined. To achieve change we will need to continue to work closely with partners both here in the UK and overseas.

Read about the work the UK is doing overseas today to promote LGBT rights:


In 2016, Seychelles repealed Section 151 of its penal code, decriminalising consensual same sex acts and removing the threat of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for people convicted under it. This law had been a block on the LGBT community’s freedom from persecution and ability to live openly as themselves.

Section 151 was portrayed as a legislative colonial hangover, but it was included in Seychelles’ 1993 constitution, remaining on the statute books 40 years after Independence from Britain. In a conservative country where over 70% of the population are Catholic, this added a legal barrier to the social pressures preventing many from coming out.

In 2011, Seychelles made a commitment to the UN Human Rights Council to decriminalise homosexuality. The issue was again raised during Seychelles’ Universal Periodic Review in 2016, prompting dialogue on equal rights.

The British High Commission (BHC) responded by articulating the UK’s modern values of openness, and the view that human rights should apply universally. We lobbied on the principal of equal rights, and helped the LGBT pressure group – and its supporters in government – by providing access to international experts. An informed public debate including examples of change from around the world can really help. In the case of Seychelles the Republic of Ireland proved a relevant example.

BHC support also enabled the LGBT community to register a legally-recognised group for the first time.

With the permission of the Seychelles Government, in 2015, a same sex marriage of two British citizens was conducted by the High Commissioner. This attracted considerable negative local comment. Permission to conduct this element of consular assistance was subsequently withdrawn. Sometimes progress comes slowly, or suffers setbacks. For some, change can come too fast. It is important to press for change, but also to understand the pace that will bring people along with you; and to listen to, and support, those who risk the most in their struggle.

Seychelles has taken positive steps on LGBT rights in the past two years. But there is more to be done before all can enjoy equal rights. One day we hope to again offer same sex weddings as part of BHC’s consular assistance to British citizens. And a forthcoming amendment of the civil code will improve rights for cohabiting couples, to ensure that unmarried couples living together receive the same rights as those who are married. The hope is that the law will, eventually, extend these rights to any cohabiting couples.

Head of MissionCaron Rohsler


In 2017 we mark 50 years since homosexuality was partially decriminalised in the UK. And yet, nearly a generation later, it is more important than ever that we actively promote LGBT equality and support Pride events around the world. Why?

Unfortunately, in the majority of places the answer is all too obvious. Out of 196 countries, only 22 allow same-sex marriages. By contrast, homosexuality is illegal in 72 of them.

But this is about more than statistics. This is about ‘pride’ – there are a number of definitions of what ‘pride’ is. This is one that struck a chord with me: ‘the feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people’. Living with pride is perhaps the antithesis of living in fear. And for far too many LGBT people, that is how they have to live their lives, day by day.

This year, I will be marching along with consular colleagues in Vancouver. I arrived here last year to find that, until now, there had been no consular representation at Vancouver Pride. When I asked why, I was told that it wasn’t really an issue in Vancouver, given that it’s one of the most LGBT friendly cities in the world. Not content with that answer, I have galvanised colleagues in the diplomatic community and this year there will be 51 of us marching from 9 different countries.

We take part partly to show support and respect for the communities that we live in, but also for those around the world where people live in fear, every day. We march for every country where homosexuality is punishable, socially unacceptable, discriminated against – sadly the list could go on. And that is why we need to continue.

Consul General, Nicole Davison


It is a real pleasure to be able to offer British citizens living in Australia the opportunity to marry the person they love, as is their right in England and Wales and in Scotland.

I conducted my first same sex marriage in April and having a BBC film crew in tow certainly added to the occasion (and my nerves as the celebrant!). It was a privilege to be part of such a special occasion and a real highlight of my first six months here. I know other colleagues who conduct ceremonies across our Australia network – in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – also enjoy being able to celebrate a couple’s big day.

To date, we have performed over 400 same-sex marriages across our Australia network – which is the highest number for the FCO globally. Partly, that’s a reflection of the very strong links we have with Australia with over 1.2 million Brits living here. Although same sex marriage is not at this time possible under Australian law, the authorities here have no objection to us conducting these ceremonies at our posts. As well as being an important service that we offer to our citizens here, these marriages are wonderful, uplifting events.

British Deputy High Commissioner, Ingrid Southworth


For the last four years, I have participated in Pride parades across the US, from Washington, DC to New York and Baltimore. Wherever Pride takes place, it’s always a celebratory day. But recent attacks on the LGBT community around the world – including last year’s shooting in Orlando – have left the UK even more determined to be a leading advocate for human rights, especially alongside one of our most important partners.

This year was the British Embassy in Washington’s fifth year participating in DC’s Capital Pride. We’ve led the way in this area, as the first foreign government to participate in Capital Pride and on such a large scale across the US – with activities in 15 cities this year. Representatives from the British military, including our defence attaché, have marched alongside a wide range of British government colleagues in recent years. And of course, LBGT diplomats and government officials serve in our missions around the world, including here in the US.

The UK has done so much as a global leader in LGBT rights – and here in Washington, we’re showing that we’re proud of those accomplishments. This year, alongside NGOs and human rights leaders, I hosted a policy discussion to outline the bold vision for the Equal Rights Coalition, newly founded by the UK and more than 30 other countries. And we capped off Pride Month with a rainbow-themed networking reception for LGBT leaders and allies in the community.

I’m coming to the end of my posting in Washington. But whether it’s here in the US, or any of our diplomatic missions around the world, I’m proud that LGBT rights are a cause for which the UK will continue to fight.

Deputy Head of Mission, Patrick Davies


Ambassador Laurie Bristow talks about what the UK is doing in Russia to promote and protect LGBT rights.

Further information

Find out more about what the UK Government is doing domestically to promote and protect LGBT rights in the Government Equalities Office blog.

1 comment on “Sexual Offences Act: 50 years on

  1. Sexual offences are underreported and people often overlook such offenses especially when top politically officers are involved.

    Thanks for writing this.

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