History of LGBT law in England & Wales

29 Jun 2021

At the end of Pride month, we thought it would be interesting to look through history at some of the laws in England and Wales that have impacted the LGBT community.



Buggery Act 1533Same-sex sexual activity was characterised as “sinful” and, under the law was outlawed and punishable by death.

The Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual act against the will of God and Man.

Section 15 of the Offences against the Person act 1828Simplified the law – Buggery remains an offence punishable by death.
27 November 1835James Pratt and John Smith were hanged outside Newgate Prison in London.
Section 61 of Offences against the Person Act 1868This section abolished the nominal death penalty for buggery, and provided instead that a person convicted of this was liable to be kept in penal servitude for life or for any term not less than ten years.
Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885Made gross indecency a crime and was used to prosecute homosexuals where sodomy could not be proved.
Army and Air Force Acts 1955UK first prohibited homosexuality in the army and air force.
The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution 1957The committee recommended that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.
Sexual Offences Act 1967Decriminalisation of sexual activity between men.

Sexual activity between women was never subject to the same legal restriction.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988Enacted on 24 May 1988, the amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship“.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994The age at which homosexual acts were lawful was reduced from 21 years to 18.

Parts allowed the dismissal of a seafarer from a merchant navy vessel on the ground of homosexual activity.

Includes a provision for a “homosexual act” to constitute a ground for discharging a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces from the service.

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000Reduced the age of consent for homosexual men from 18 to 16 (to match straight and lesbian sexual activities).
Adoption and Children Act 2002Same sex couples permitted to legally adopt.
Section 122 of the Local Government Act 2003Repeal of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003


Making it unlawful to discriminate against someone in work because of their sexual orientation.
Gender Recognition Act 2004Transgender people have the ability to apply to change their legal gender.
Civil Partnership Act 2004


Same sex couples allowed to legally commit to each other.
Equality Act 2010Consolidating existing LGBT legislation.

Also making it unlawful to dismiss someone in the military for homosexual activity.

Marriage (Same Sex) Act 2013Same sex marriage is made lawful.
Policing and Crime Act 2017The act implements the Alan Turing law, offering an automatic pardon to men convicted for homosexual acts that are no longer considered criminal offences.
Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Act 2017Repealing parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that allowed homosexual acts to be grounds for dismissal from the crew of merchant ships.
Armed Forces Bill 2021It seeks to automatically pardons all criminal records given for having gay sex within the UK military. It was also announced that military personnel dismissed on grounds of homosexuality will be able to have their service medals restored if they had been taken away.

As of July 2020, the following countries have laws that can prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality:

  • Afghanistan
  • Brunei
  • Iran
  • Mauritania
  • Nigeria
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • United Arab Emirates


Kathryn Evans