Six times human rights laws helped LGBT equality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Following David Cameron’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act, we take a look at some of the major wins for gay rights made possible by human rights laws.

The Prime Minister earlier this week announced plans to replace the Act and the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights if re-elected next year, adding “we do not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg”.

Here are six wins for gay equality made possible by human rights laws:

1. Decriminalising homosexuality in Northern Ireland

Despite homosexuality being decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967, and in Scotland in 1980, Northern Ireland kept its ban on homosexuality.

However, in 1981, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Dudgeon v UK that the sodomy ban violated Article 8 of the ECHR, because “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life”.

2. Allowing gays to serve openly in the military

In 2000, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Lustig-Prean and Beckett v UK that the Royal Navy had breached the human rights of personnel, by firing them after discovering their sexuality.

The armed forces immediately stopped the practice, and within months of the ruling, and UK government had amended the law to comply.

3. Giving same-sex couples tenancy rights

Gay couples were afforded the same protection in tenancy agreements as straight couples, after the Court of Appeal ruled in 2002 that the ban violated Article 14 of the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Previously, the Rent Act claimed that only a person “living with the original tenant as his or her wife or husband” could inherit a statutory tenancy – but the law was eventually amended in 2004’s Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza.

4. Granting rights to transgender people

In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of trans woman Christine Goodwin, who was denied the right to marry in the UK.

The government introduced legislation to comply with the ruling, resulting in 2004’s Gender Recognition Act – which afforded a plethora of basic rights to transgender people for the first time.

5. Helping equalise the age of consent

In 1997, the European Court of Human Rights found that differing ages of consent for gay sex were discriminatory, with the government agreeing to comply with the ruling.

Despite two defeats in the House of Lords, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act eventually became law in 2001, equalising the age of consent.

6. Lifting the ban on gay couples adopting in Northern Ireland

The Supreme Court helped overturn Northern Ireland’s ban on gay couples adopting just last year, after then-Health Minister Edwin Poots refused to lift the ban.

The court battle – sparked by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission – finally allowed gay couples to adopt across the UK in December.