In the early hours of July 27th 1967 the Sexual Offences Act finally made its way through parliament and received the royal assent later the same day.download (3)

The Act was a Private Members Bill introduced into the Commons by Labour backbencher and navigated through the Lords by Conservative Peer Lord Arran.

Leo Abse MP
Leo Abse MP

The Act had had a very difficult passage through parliament. It was a private members bill but had been afforded time but not open support by Wilsons Labour Government. The Home Secretary Roy Jenkins was in support as were the majority but by no means all Labour MPs. The arguments put forward in favour of it would strike many of us as homophobic, Nobody expressed the opinion that homosexuality was a normal variant of love.Rathe homosexual men were to be pitied because they would never find the fulfillment enjoyed by ‘ordinary’ people. The line of the leadership of the Church of England was particularly persuasive to the doubters saying that what the church regarded as a sin should not be regarded by the state as a crime. We===poor things were to be pitied rather than punished.

Limitations Of The Act

The 1967 Act did NOT decriminalise homosexuality—it legalised it in certain very limited circumstances. Basically it only legalised sex between gay men in private and provided both partners were over the age of 21. Incredibly it was made illegal to tr to meet such a parter. The Law ‘Importuning for An immoral purpose [gay sex] was widely applied . Something held to be legal was also held to be immoral. The Act only applied only to England and Wales.It did not apply to the armed forces or the merchant navy.What was perfectly legal for mixed sex or lesbian couples was illegal in many cases for us

Effects of the Act

In the short term at least the Act made things worse.More gay men were arrested because there were more offences that they could commit. The law was aggressively policed and police entrapment became common. Those arrested could still be sent for aversion therapy which would more accurately be seen as torture as an alternative to prison. Gay men were more vulnerable than ever to blackmailers and queers bashers because they themselves were often breaking a still discriminatory and unjust law. The growing dissatisfaction with 1978 anthem ‘Glad To Be Gay’ by the Tom Robinson Band which entered the charts despite—or possibly because –the BBC refused to play it, It is worth reading in full because this was the situation a decade after the 1967 Act.images (15)

Glad To Be Gay

“”The British Police are the best in the world
I dont believe one of these stories Ive heard
Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all
Lining the customers up by the wall
Picking out people and knocking them down
Resisting arrest as they’re kicked on the ground
Searching their houses and calling them queer
I don’t believe that sort of thing happens here

Sing if you’re glad to be gay
Sing if youre happy that way

Pictures of naked young women are fun
In Titbits and Playboy,page three of the sun
Theres no nudes in Gay News our one magazine
But they still find excuses to call it obscene
Read how disgusting we are in the press
Telegraph,People and Sunday Express
Molesters of children ,corrupters of youth
Its there in the paper ,it must be the truth

Sing—

Dont try to kid us that if we are discreet
You’re perfectly safe as you walk down the street
You do nt have to mince or make bitchy remarks
To get beaten und nconscious and left in the dark
I had a friend who was gentle and short
He was lonely one evening and went for a walk
Queer bashers caught him and kicked in his teeth
He was only hospitalised for a week
Sing-

So sit back and watch as they close all our clubs
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubsa
Make sure your boyfriend s at least 21
So only your friends and brothers get done
Lie to your workmates,lie to your folks
Put down the Queens and tell anti-queer jokes
Gay Libs ridiculous ,join their laughter
The buggers are legal now,what more are they after?

The answer to that question of course full legal equality—-which we did come even near to achieving until the Equal Marriage Act in 2013. As for broader equality I believe we are still a long way off

SHould despite We Be Celebrating?

My simple answer to that is that is that despite all its limitations we should—because it was a start, Its very deficiencies prompted ma-ny of our people into acton.I remember the years immediately post 1967 as the worst in my life.The new law which essentially banned gay men from meeting another to do something that was perfectly legal. Without 1967 the rest would not have followed, So let us celebrate.But let us remember the high price paid by many . We should remember thase whose lives were ruined by unjust laws as well as celebrating those whose lives were-eventually-to be transformed.I remember those such as the young man who in the 1990s on a warm sunny night went for a walk in our local park in the hope of finding companionship.By doing so he could have been arrested for ‘importuning for an immoral purpose, But the Queer Bashers with their baseball bats got at him first and he was left brain dead never to recover As far as I am aware no one was ever been charged.

There were many other victims. Let us remember them.And the campaigners who fought against impossible seeming odds. And let us celebrate 1967 which was the start of our liberation But we have not yet fully achieved that

Colin Livett 21/7/17

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