The gay rights movement is a collection of loosely aligned civil rights groups, human rights groups, support groups and political activists seeking acceptance, tolerance and equality for non-heterosexuals (homosexual, bisexuals), and the transgendered - despite the fact that it is typically refered to as the gay rights movement, members also promote the rights of groups of individuals who do not necesarily identify as being 'gay'. (Compare Homosexuality and transgender.) These views are considered controversial by some, and the gay rights movement is opposed by a variety of individuals and groups including some religious and political (traditionally though not exclusively right-wing) groups.
Although it is difficult to generalise given the wide range of opinions and beliefs within the gay rights movement, in general most members believe:
- in tolerance to all people regardless of their sexual orientation,
- that all people deserve equal rights and parity in law regardless of their sexual orientation,
- that "homophobia" (the irrational fear and/or hatred of homosexuals) is dangerous, not just to homosexuals but to all members of society.
- views that portray homosexuality as being negative (i.e. a sin or a perversion) are irrelevant, misguided or even outright malicious.
- that sexual orientation is not a choice, referring to homosexuality and heterosexuality equally as unchangeable sexual orientation,
- that attempts to alter sexual orientation (see Ex-gay movement and Reparative therapy) can be dangerous, misguided at best,
- and that people should be free to express their sexual identity without fear of reprisal.
History and accomplishments
One of the first gay rights activism movements was centered around Magnus Hirschfeld in pre-World War II Berlin, Germany. The gay rights movement in Germany was almost completely obliterated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement (See Homosexuals in Nazi Germany and Night of the Long Knives.)
In the early 1950s the police were actively enforcing the laws affecting homosexual men (some say this was a result of CIA pressure follwing the Burgess-Maclean spy scandal). This led to a number of high-profile arrests and trials.
In particular, in 1953 Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood were arrested and charged with having committed specific acts of indecency with Edward McNally and John Reynolds; they were also accused of conspiring with Edward Montagu (the 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu) to commit these offences. The Director of Public Prosecutions gave his assurance that Reynolds and McNally would not be prosecuted in any circumstances. The trial of Edward Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood began on 15 March 1954 in the hall of Winchester Castle . All three defendents were convicted.
The Sunday Times published an article entitled "Law and Hypocrisy" on 28 March 1954 that dealt with this trial and its outcome. Soon after, on 10 April 1954, the New Statesman printed an article called "The Police and the Montagu Case". A month after the Montagu trial the Home Secretary agreed to appoint a committee to examine and report on the law covering homosexual offences. The official announcement in the House of Commons was made on 18 April 1954 by Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth.
In August 1954, Home Office appointed a departmental committee of 15 men and women "to consider... the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts."
The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was published on 3 September 1957 and recommended that "homosexual behavior 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, Dr. 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 intitiated on 4 December 1957 by Frank Pakenham. Of the seventeen peers who spoke in the debate, eight broadly supported the recommendations in the Wolfenden Report. The Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, speaking for the goverment, doubted that there would be much public support for implementing the recommendations and stated that further research was required.
In 1958 the Home Office asked sociologist Richard Hauser to survey homosexuality in Great Britain. On suggestion that arose from Hauser's work was that "the poor quality of the normal relationships between men and women in... society is responsible for much avoidable homosexuality."
The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded on 12 May 1958, mainly to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations.
In 1965 in the in House of Lords Lord Arran proposed the decriminalization of homosexual acts. In 1966 Humphrey Berkeley MP proposed the same in the House of Commons.
After almost 10 years of intense campaigning, the Sexual Offences Bill was put before parliament in 1967 in order to implement some of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations. Lord Arran, a sponsor of the Bill, made the following remarks at the third reading in the Lords:
- Because, of the Bill now to be enacted, perhaps a million human beings will be able to live in greater peace. I find this an awesome and marvellous thing. The late Oscar Wilde, on his release from Reading Gaol, wrote to a friend:
- "Yes, we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms."
- My Lords, Mr. Wilde was right: the road has been long and the martyrdoms many, monstrous and bloody. Today, please God! sees the end of that road. I ask one thing and I ask it earnestly. I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage and for whom the prison doors are now open to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity. This is no occasion for jubilation; certainly not for celebration. Any form of ostentatious behaviour; now or in the future any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done. Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good. Lest the opponents of the Bill think that a new freedom, a new privileged class, has been created, let me remind them that no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision, or at best of pity. We shall always, I fear, resent the odd man out. That is their burden for all time, and they must shoulder it like men - for men they are.
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed, decriminalizing certain homosexual activities between adults (age 21 and over at that time) when they took place in private. "In private" was interpreted strictly by the courts, being taken to exclude acts taking place in a room in a hotel, for example, and in private homes where a third person was present - even where that person was in a different room! Campaigning was therefore continued by organizations such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front with the aim of attaining full equality.
In 1973 Lord Arran got a bill to protect badgers enacted. It is said that his patience was tried by the experience; he allegedly remarked to a colleague, "There weren't so many supporting my Badgers' Bill as my Buggers' Bill!" to which another noble lord replied, "No! but then there aren't any badgers in the House of Lords, are there?"
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 homosexual offences should be 18.
- "People are entitled to think that homosexuality is wrong, but they are not entitled to use the criminal law to force that view upon others.
- "A society that has learned, over time, racial and sexual equality can surely come to terms with equality of sexuality."
Edwina Currie's amendment was defeated by 307 votes to 280. Those who voted for it included John Smith and Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown and William Hague. Those voting against include David Blunkett and Ann Taylor.
This vote was followed immediately by one on Sir Anthony Durant 's amendment to lower the age of consent to 18. This was passed by 427 votes to 162, and supporters included Michael Howard and John Major. It was opposed by such MPs as John Redwood, Chris Patten, Michael Heseltine and John Gummer.
An amendment tabled by Simon Hughes which was intended to equalise the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals at 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 at 16, was rejected by 245 votes to 71.
In its decision of 1 July 1997 in the case of Sutherland v. the 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 in the summer of 1998 propose a Bill to Parliament for a reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from 18 to 16.
In June 1998 the Crime and Disorder Bill was put before Parliament. Ann Keen proposed amendments that would 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, a 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 said 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 and threatened to use the Parliament Act 1911 to enact it regardless of the opinion of the Lords. The Lords rejected the bill again in November 2000. The Home Secretary used the Parliament Act on Tuesday 28 November 2000.
In the United States, there were some initial steps toward a gay rights movement with the formation of the Mattachine Society and the publications of Phil Andros in the years immediately following World War II. Also during this time frame Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was published by Alfred Kinsey, a work which was one of the first to look scientifically at the subject of sexuality. Kinsey's incredible assertion, backed by a great deal of research, that approximately 10% of the male population (and about half that number among females) had, or would have, at least one overt homosexual experience during the course of their lifetime, was a dramatic departure from the prevailing beliefs of the time. Before its publication, homosexuality was not a topic of discussion, generally, but afterwards it began to appear even in mainstream publications such as Time Magazine, Life Magazine, and others.
Despite the entry of the subject into mainstream consciousness very little actual change in the laws or mores of society was seen until the mid-1960s, the time the "Sexual Revolution" began. This was a time of major social upheaval in many social areas, including views of sexuality.
These works, along with other changes in society such as huge migrations to the cities following the War, began to build gay communities in urban centers. Through this, gay people began to develop a sense of themselves as a minority group. While gay bars existed even in the early 20th century, they were very few, and often were the focus of regular raids by police. With the rise of the gay community, gay bars became more and more common, and the sense of gay identity strengthened during the 1950s and 1960s.
Gay people became less and less willing to accept their status as social outcasts and criminals. However, they had little or no political and social power until the late 1960s, even though some states began invalidating their sodomy laws earlier, with Illinois being the first state to do so in 1962.
However, the Stonewall riots of 1969 are considered to be the starting point for the modern gay rights movement in the USA, when all of these relatively underground changes reached a breaking point, and gay people began to organize on a large scale and demand legal and social recognition and equality.
The aftermath of the Stonewall riots saw the creation of such groups as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists' Alliance (GAA) in New York City. The GLF's 'A Gay Manifesto ' set out the aims for the fledgling gay liberation movement. Chapters of the GLF would then spread to other countries. These groups would be the seeds for the various modern gay rights groups that campaign for equality in countries around the globe. In the 1970s many gay people moved to San Francisco, where they rapidly acquired considerable political influence, including getting one of their number, Harvey Milk, elected to the city's Board of Supervisors, a legislative chamber often known as a City Council in other municipalities. Milk was assassinated in 1978 along with the city's mayor at the time, George Moscone.
In the 21st century, defending homosexuals against homophobia and gay-bashing and other forms of discrimination is a major element of American gay rights, often portrayed as intrinsic to human rights. Indeed, one of the most influential gay rights groups in the U.S. is called the Human Rights Campaign. Other American gay rights organizations include the National Gay and Lesbian Task force (NGLTF), Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and various local gay community centers.
The movement has been successful in some areas. By the end of the 20th Century Sodomy laws were repealed or overturned in most American states, and those that still remained were ruled unconstitutional in the June 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. Many companies and local governments have clauses in their nondiscrimination policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In some jurisdictions in the U.S., gay bashing is considered a hate crime and given a harsher penalty.
The U.S. state of Vermont, the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, and some European countries provide the civil union as an alternative to marriage. The Netherlands and Belgium allow same-sex marriage, as do the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, and the U.S. state of Massachusetts. See Same-sex marriage. Gay people are now permitted to adopt in some locations, although there are fewer locations where they may adopt children jointly with their partners.
The main opponents of the advances of the gay rights movement in the US have, in general, been the Christian right and other social conservatives, often under the aegis of the Republican Party. The Roman Catholic Church, or at least its hierarchy, has also been prominent among the movement's adversaries. Regionally, opposition to gays has been strongest in the Southern and Mountain States.
The United States has no federal law protecting against discrimination in employment by private sector employers based on sexual orientation. However, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and over 140 cities and counties have enacted such bans. As of July 2003, the states banning sexual orientation discrimination in private sector employment are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.. Many of these laws also ban discrimination in other contexts, such as housing or public accommodation . A proposed bill to ban anti-gay employment discrimination nationwide, known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), has been introduced in the United States Congress, but its prospects of passage are not believed to be good in the current Republican-controlled Congress.
On March 4, 1998 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also applied when both parties are the same sex. The lower courts, however, have reached differing conclusions about whether this ruling applies to harassment motivated by antigay animus.
Canada has advanced dramatically in the fight of same-sex rights, exceeding many European nations in laws and benefits directed towards same-sex couples and members of the trans-identified communities.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969 thanks in part to then-Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, Pierre Trudeau (who later became the 16th Prime Minister of Canada). He famously commented, "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."
In 1977, the province of Quebec becomes the first province in Canada to include "sexual orientation" in its Human Rights Act. As of 2004, all provinces and territories have included "sexual orientation" to their Human Rights Act, and the Northwest Territories include "gender identity" in theirs.
In 1978, the Canadian Immigration Act was amended, removing a ban on homosexuals as immigrants.
In 1981 a major bath house raid occurred in Toronto, so outraging the gay community that thousands poured in to the streets of Toronto to protest the raid. Infrequent bathhouse raids continue to occur to this day. Laws from the 1800s known as "bawdy house laws" are still listed in the Criminal Code of Canada; police use these laws to lay charges, and use liquor violation laws as grounds to enter the premises.
In 1982 Canada received an amended Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The wording "sexual orientation" was not explicitly included in the list of groups listed in Section 15 of the Charter (Equality Rights), against which, "in particular," discrimination is forbidden. However, in 1995, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Egan v. Canada that "sexual orientation" should be 'read in' to Section 15.
In the 1980s, several attempts were made to add "sexual orientation" into the Federal Human Rights Act, an amendment that did not take place until 1996.
In 1988, New Democrat MP Svend Robinson became the first member of Parliament to come out, declaring that he is gay to the media outside the House of Commons. There are currently 6 members of Parliament and two senators who identify as gay or lesbian. In the main, the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois support legislation in favour of LGBT rights; the Liberal Party of Canada is divided on the issue, and the Conservative Party is almost entirely opposed.
In 1992, then-Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, Kim Campbell (who later became Canada's first female prime minister) announced that Canada was lifting its ban on homosexuals in the military, allowing them to serve openly and live on-base with their partners. Canada was one of the first countries to allow this.
In 1995 a court in Ontario ruled that gay and lesbian couples wishing to adopt jointly should be allowed to do so, making Ontario the first province to allow this. Currently, nearly all provinces allow gay and lesbian couples (and single gays and lesbians) to adopt children.
In 1999, gays and lesbians scored a major victory when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights at heterosexual common-law couples. This forced the federal Liberal government to pass a bill in 2000 amending 68 federal statutes, including pension benefits, bankruptcy protection, income taxes, old age security, and immigration, among others. Legal marriage, however, remained defined as being between a man and a woman.
Between 2002 and 2004, several courts ruled that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples is discriminatory, and struck down the federal definition. The first ruling required the federal government to draft legislation recognizing same-sex marriage, but later rulings brought the new definition into effect immediately in the jurisdictions concerned. Canada thereby became the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands and Belgium.
The federal government announced in the summer of 2003 that it would not appeal the decisions and would draft legislation to allow same-sex marriages across the country. The bill was put before the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure that is would withstand a Charter challenge by those who oppose same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments on the draft legislation in October of 2004 and parliament will vote on it in winter/spring of 2005.
In May of 2004, the House of Commons and the Senate passed Bill C-250, which adds "sexual orientation" to the Hate Propaganda section of the Criminal Code, thus making it illegal for people to propagate hate based on sexual orientation.
Republic of Ireland
Homosexuality was formally decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993. Currently discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is outlawed by the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000 . These laws forbid discrimination in any of the following areas: employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other publically available opportunities. At present Irish law does not provide for gay marriage or civil partnerships.
The decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 was the result of a campaign by Senator David Norris and the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform which led to a ruling, in 1988, that Irish laws prohibiting homosexual activities were in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform was founded in the 1970s to fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, its founding members including Senator Norris and future President of Ireland Mary McAleese. Prior to 1993 homosexuality was not illegal in the Republic per se but certain laws dating from the nineteenth century rendered homosexual acts illegal. The relevant legislation was the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, and the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, both enacted while the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the state had a long-standing policy of only prosecuting people in cases where minors were involved or sexual acts were committed in public or without consent.
In 1983 David Norris took a case to the Supreme Court seeking to challenge the constitutionality of these laws but was unsuccessful. In its judgement (delivered by a 3-2 majority) the court referred to the "Christian and democratic nature of the Irish State" and argued that criminalisation served public health and the institution of marriage.
In 1988 Norris took a case to the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The court, in the case of Norris v. Ireland , ruled that the criminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic violated Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to privacy in personal affairs. The Irish parliament (Oireachtas) decriminalised homosexuality five years later.
- Gay rights timeline
- Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (Ireland)
- Log Cabin Republicans (USA)
- Egale Canada (Canada)
- Age of consent
- California domestic partner law (USA)
- Same-sex marriage
- Section 28 (UK)
- Norris v. Ireland (European Court of Human Rights case law)
- Report of the European Commission Of Human Rights on the case of Sutherland v. the United Kingdom (Application 25186/94), 1 July 1997