On 27th July 1967, at the stroke of the midnight hour, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into force. When they woke, thousands of loving couples, whose only offence had been being of the same sex, could look forward to a life free from fear of the policeman’s knock on the door; from fear of imprisonment; and from the state sanctioned chemical mistreatment for being yourself that this country inflicted on someone who contributed more to our victory over Nazism than anyone else. Gay people ceased to be criminals in their own homes. I can’t say I remember that day: I was ten. But I certainly knew by then that I was different and was going, as I thought, to have a life of being secret and different.
46 years have passed, and during those years many passionate and hardworking people fought to equalise the treatment of gay and straight people in this country. For their pains, they were frequently verbally and physically abused and forced to the margins of our society. Many of us have contributed in many different ways to that fight; many of us could wish we had contributed more and stopped being so secret somewhat earlier. Some battles were lost: at the worst point of that 46 years, decent same sex couples – and their children – were legislatively vilified as in a “pretended family relationship”.
Today, 13th March 2014, at the stroke of midnight, while we slept, most of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force and the last major piece of legal discrimination in this country against gay people – the right to marriage on equal terms with straight couples – fell away. And yesterday Her Majesty the Queen assented to the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, allowing equal marriage in that nation.
So, job done? Is LGBT history over?
Although Great Britain now has full legislative equality for gay people, our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland suffer from considerable discrimination including in fundamental areas of family life; important aspects of the equal marriage legislation fail to adequately address transgender issues.
Around the rest of the world, the position is not so rosy. The nation that awoke to freedom “at the stroke of the midnight hour”, the world’s largest democracy, recriminalised LGB people last year. There has been a flurry of the most vicious anti-gay legislation in parts of Africa. The death penalty is imposed against LGB people in many parts of the world.
So if we sort all that out, job done?
Human rights, respect and dignity cannot be siloed. You don’t have a different set of rights because you’re LGBT. Your rights to dignity, respect and freedom because of your sexuality are no different from your rights as a human being. Human beings have different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, gender identities, beliefs and lack of them, abilities and social background. They are all entitled to be respected, to be part of the safe space that good global employers provide for their employees. We should all work to advance those same principles in the wider community.
If we can get all that right, the job really will be done.