OPINION: LGBT+ History Month – [UK] LGBT+ laws still to be enacted?

February [marked] LGBT+ history month, so to celebrate this, I delved into the most life-changing achievements for the community to date.

The law started to recognise LGBT+ rights in 1967, with the Sexual Offences Act and its partial decriminalisation of sex between consenting male adults, in England and Wales. Since this monumental move, we have seen many changes and rights being asserted across all areas of LGBT+ life, and within the law.

Here are some of the most noteworthy:

1. Human Rights Act, 1998

2. Equal age of consent, 2001

3. Adoption and Children Act, 2002 – allowing same-sex couples to adopt

4. Civil Partnership Act, 2004

5. Gender Recognition Act, 2004

6. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 2008 – recognising same-sex couples as legal parents

7. Equality Act, 2010

8. Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, 2013

9. Policing and Crime Act, 2017 – known as the ‘Alan Turing Law’, it pardoned men who had criminal convictions under laws outlawing same-sex relations

10. The Association of British Insurers’ guide to minimum standards, 2018 – removing HIV discrimination

11. Single parents could apply for parental rights after surrogacy, 2019

Over the past 10 years, progress has really started to accelerate. These changes have resulted in the right for alternative family structures, gay marriage, adoption, and surrogacy for same-sex couples being made more accessible, and the protection against discrimination, both in and outside of the workplace.

It meant the first same-sex marriages taking place in England and Wales on March 29, 2014.

It led to Alan Turing being granted a posthumous royal pardon. The cryptographer, who helped to break the German Enigma code, had previously been convicted of ‘gross indecency’, and was chemically castrated.

In 2016, Prince William appeared on the cover of LGBT+ magazine, Attitude, as part of his efforts to help combat homophobia and mental health issues.

Meanwhile, the Equality Act of 2010 was a landmark piece of legislation that consolidated many pre-existing protections, and offered a tool for LGBT+ people to fight harassment, unfavourable treatment and discrimination.

It was a drastic move to bridge the gap of separate, confusing, and conflicting laws, to instead promote genuine equality for the LGBT+ community, and many other minority groups collectively. Case law continued to evolve after the Equality Act’s passage, to focus on discrimination, perceived sexual orientation, and the protection of those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

So, what new legal developments should we look out for?

. Blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men are being relaxed across the UK, with changes due to be implemented by Summer

. Post-Brexit we will not be signed up to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which means that UK citizens will technically lose some of the protections contained under it. However, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s own Human Rights Act 1998, coupled with the above legislation, means that very little will change in practice, and the UK is likely to remain a bastion of human rights.

. Things will get harder for same-sex family members moving together in Europe. After Brexit, we lost the ‘Coman’ European Court of Justice ruling, which guaranteed free movement for same-sex spouses within the EU, regardless of whether a country legally recognised their relationship.

There are also still issues left unaddressed, and biases that continue to restrict genuine equality for LGBT+ people.

What still needs to be changed?

. Proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act were effectively dropped last year, so transgender people still need a medical diagnosis to legally change gender. This is archaic and is unfair. It is our hope that these proposals for reform are brought back soon.

. LGBT+ education in schools was made mandatory in September 2020, but there continues to be resistance from some parents and religious campaign groups. This means that how this education is to be implemented remains uncertain. Laws around this, to provide a framework for this contentious area, would be welcome.

. Surrogacy in the UK is still complex. This could be made smoother with automatic parental rights, and an update in the law.

. Surveys and soft supervision by the EU of LGBT+ issues and laws has been lost. So the UK needs to put in place its own processes and protections, to ensure we are continually moving in the right direction.

We have come a very long way in the last few decades, and things continue to slowly evolve. But there is more to do – and attitudes still have to change.

-Karen Holden

Karen Holden is an LGBT+ lawyer and founder of A City Law Firm


All opinions are the writer’s own [via Thomson Reuters Foundation]

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