House of Commons marks decriminalisation

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

MPs from across the political divide have signed an Early Day Motion celebrating the 40th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.

The EDM was sponsored by Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West.

Other signatories include Nick Herbert and John Bercow, both Tories, and Chris Byrant, the Labour MP for Rhonnda.

This Saturday is the actual anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 into law but the EDM was tabled today as the House goes on its summer break tomorrow.

In 1967, the House of Commons debated late into the night on a motion proposed by Welsh Labour MP Leo Abse.

The general attitude was that gay men were to be pitied.

The Home Secretary at the time, Roy Jenkins, told the House: “those who suffer from this disability carry a great weight of shame all their lives.”

Today’s EDM reads:

“This House commemorates the 40th anniversary of the passing into law of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality on 28th July 1967; notes that this reform ended the legalised persecution of gay men and was the beginning of a long process of gradual liberalisation of the laws concerning gay men and women; believes that the human rights and dignity of all gay people are now on a more secure footing but recognises that there is still more to be done before homophobia is eradicated and there is equality for all before the law.”

One of the sponsors of the 1967 Act, Lord Arran, asked that gay men not to “publicly flaunt” themselves when they were given a modicum of freedom.

“Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good. Lest the opponents of the Bill think that a new freedom, a new privileged class, has been created, let me remind them that no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision, or at best of pity.

“We shall always, I fear, resent the odd man out. That is their burden for all time, and they must shoulder it like men – for men they are.”

It is fitting that in 2007, three of the signatories of today’s EDM, Chris Bryant, Nick Herbert and Stephen Williams were all elected as out and proud gay men, one from each of the main parties.

Parliament returns to work on Monday 8th October.