Same sex couples and the law
On Tuesday 5 February 2013, the majority of members of parliament in the UK House of Commons voted for same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill received favourable votes from 400 MPs, while 175 voted against. However, the bill still needs to be voted on in both the House of Commons and House of Lords before it becomes law.
The vote comes nearly five decades after the UK government passed the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, officially decriminalising homosexual acts between two consenting men over the age of 21 in England and Wales.
Homosexuality remained illegal in Scotland until 1981 and in Northern Ireland the following year. On the Isle of Man, homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until 1992.
While the decriminalisation of homosexuality was a huge turning point for Britain, same sex relationships were still treated as a taboo. One of the clauses of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act was that homosexual acts must only be permitted in private – meaning gay couples were unable to have sex in hotels or with a third person. In 1988, a local government act was introduced, prohibiting local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality’ and ‘promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.
The age of consent for sex between men remained at 21 until 1994 when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act reduced it to 18. Six years later it was reduced once more to 16, putting gay men on equal footing with heterosexual men and women for the first time.
From then on, things moved much quicker. By 2002 same-sex couples were allowed to adopt thanks to the Adoption and Children Act and by 2003, the local government law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality was repealed.
By 2004, same-sex couples had never felt more equal to their opposite-sex counter parts as the government brought in the Civil Partnership Act, which grants gay couples the same rights as those in civil marriages. By 2011, civil partnerships were even allowed in places of worship and by 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron began discussing his plans to legalise same sex marriage.
While Britain has come a long way in terms of acknowledging and accepting same-sex partners, it still remains to be seen if the government will follow through with legalising gay marriage.
You can find key facts on same sex marriage by clicking here.