When did it become legal to be gay in the UK?

Laws around homosexuality differ from region to region in the UK meaning that gay people in Scotland and Northern Ireland had to wait a lot longer for equality.


Homosexuality was legalised in England and Wales on the 27th July 1967, a decade after the Wolfenden Report recommended that homosexuality should be decriminalised. The Sexual Offences Act was changed to decriminalise homosexuality, up to a point and only if three conditions were met:

  1. that the act was consensual
  2. that both parties were 21 or over
  3. and the act was done in private.

Up until that point, men who were found to be having sex with other men were often charged with Gross Indecency or Buggery charges.

Thousands of men were criminalised because of this law. They were often sent to prison.

In 2017 a pardon was issued, as an apology to those men who served time for their “crime”.

When the law changed being gay still wasn’t equal to being straight. The age of consent was 21 and all sexual acts had to be done in private. it wasn’t until the new millennium, that laws pertaining to gay and straight sexual acts were equalised.

Not all gay people in the UK were equal

But not all of the UK’s men were able to be openly gay. The law wasn’t changed until 1981 for homosexuals in Scotland and 1982 for guys in Northern Ireland.

As it stands today, it is currently legal to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender across the UK, whether you’re in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Laws surrounding discriminating because of sexuality or gender expression are very strict in the UK and include employment and business services.

Gay people are permitted to have civil partnerships (since 2004) and get married (2013/14) except in Northern Ireland – the only region in the UK which does not have full equality for LGBT+ people.

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