by Peter Mullen
A participant in a BBC discussion about social changes in British society remarked, “Gay marriage is not the end of the liberation process, but only a stage on the way.” On the way to what? Well, we shall see. First we might pause to take a look back along the road we have already travelled.
The subdued and reticent 1950s were not much different from the 1930s or even from the 1910s. There were strict social conventions and public morality was conservative. Abortion was illegal and so was homosexuality. Divorce was still a social stigma. Of course, all these things went on, but abortions were “back street”: everyone knew that there was a woman – in Armley she lived at 27 Hedley Street – to whom a girl might go if she “got into trouble”. Occasionally there would be a homosexual scandal break in the newspapers, but these episodes were so mysterious that most people really didn’t understand what was entailed. There were jokes about “bum boys” but, well, they were just jokes. In the rare event of a divorce, the couple involved were disapproved, as if somehow they had let the side down – like deserters from the battle. In the space of a very few years, this settled way of life was changed forever.
Homosexual practices were criminal offences until 1967 when Parliament, acting on the advice of the Wolfenden Report of ten years earlier, decriminalised homosexual acts committed by consenting adults in private. The key passage in the Wolfenden Report declared:
“Unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”
This was a humane reform and it was welcomed by the majority of the population who found distasteful the criminalisation of their fellow human beings for nothing more than the expression of their affections. Indeed until 1967 it was common for entrapments to take place, and homosexuals discovered in flagrante were often subject to blackmail and many careers and marriages were ruined. Homosexual law reform received support from all sectors of society including the churches.
But we should recognise what was actually decriminalised. The wording of the Bill specified homosexual acts “between consenting adults in private” where “between” meant two; “adult” meant that the two must be over twenty-one; and “private” meant behind closed doors. And of course the Act applied only to men. Homosexuality in women had never in recent history been a criminal offence.
I doubt whether those who welcomed this reform would have voted for it if they could have seen where it has led forty years on. Gone now is all that restrained talk about privacy and adulthood. Now the love that once dared not speak its name screams at us in high camp on the high street on such brazen parades of homosexuality as so-called “Gay Pride Day.” And nowadays, partly as a result of aggressive Gay lobbying and partly through further Acts of Parliament outlawing “discrimination”, the public is meant to regard homosexual relationships as morally and socially equivalent to marriage. And indeed it is now so legally acknowledged following the Equal Marriage Act.