Report on Legal Discrimination against Lesbians and Gay Men

Chris Mullin, MP,
Home Affairs Select Committee,
House of Commons,


Dear Chris,

I am writing on behalf of OutRage! to formally request the Home Affairs Select Committee to prioritise a report on legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

This is the fourth request we have made to the Select Committee in the last eight years. While your Conservative predecessors routinely rejected our request, we hope you will agree to this much-needed and long-overdue inquiry.

We are aware that the Select Committee has produced three reports on race issues over the last decade, but has not once investigated the equally serious issue of legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

We are, for example:

  • denied the right to marry and to any alternative legal recognition of our partnerships;
  • banned from membership of the Armed Forces;
  • penalised by insurance and mortgage companies;
  • turned down for consideration by many fostering and adoption agencies;
  • discriminated against in pension and inheritance rules;
  • threatened by punitive sexual offences laws that criminalise consenting gay sex and apply only to gay men;

and we can lawfully be

  • sacked from our jobs,
  • evicted from rented property,
  • refused service in shops, restaurants, and other places of leisure and entertainment

— without any form of legal redress.

If the legal inequalities suffered by homosexuals were inflicted on black people, no one would have any hesitation in condemning that as apartheid. Homophobic discrimination is a form of sexual apartheid. It involves one law for heterosexuals and another for homosexuals. We are treated as second-class citizens, being denied many of the basic human rights that heterosexuals take for granted. This is intolerable in a supposedly civilised, democratic society.

A report by the Select Committee would have great prestige, authority, and impact, exposing the vast extent of homophobic discrimination and demonstrating the need for law reform. By promoting public awareness and debate, you could encourage changes that would dramatically improve the lives of millions.

OutRage! has drafted a six-point programme for lesbian and gay law reform, which sets out our priorities. As you will see, many of our proposals, such as the Unmarried Partners Act, would also benefit heterosexuals.

OutRage!’s programme of reform could provide a useful basis for the issues considered by the Select Committee. —

  1. The repeal of all gay-only sexual offences for which there is no heterosexual equivalent, and all crimes without victims –including the offences of buggery, gross indecency, procuring, soliciting– and their replacement by a new sexual offences code that makes no distinction between male and female, heterosexual and homosexual.
  2. A new Unmarried Partners Act, giving legal rights to all unwed couples, both gay and straight, including: legal recognition as next-of-kin; joint guardianship of any children; the inheritance of pensions, life insurance, and property on the death of a partner; and entitlement to company fringe benefits that extend to employees’ spouses, such as health-care cover.
  3. Equalisation of the age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, to reduce the criminalisation of young people involved in consenting sex, and to remove the legal obstacles to earlier, more explicit and effective sex education in schools. The best way to safeguard young people’s sexual welfare is by education and empowerment.
  4. A comprehensive Equal Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and incitement to hatred on any grounds, including sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religion, age, national or social origin, marital status, disability, and medical condition, (to protect people with HIV).
  5. The replacement of Section 28 with new legislation, requiring schools to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools, to promote pupils’ understanding and acceptance of gay people, and to ensure that AIDS awareness lessons encompass information about safer sex for lesbians and gay men. We envisage this initiative as part of a wider statutory obligation on schools to promote tolerance and combat all forms of prejudice and bullying, including on the basis of race, gender, disability, religion, and physical appearance.
  6. An end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, as part of a package of democratic reforms –such as the overhaul of the court-martial system– to enhance the civil and human rights of all service personnel.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell.