This exhibition, using archives from the Hall-Carpenter Archives of lesbian and gay activism, and press cuttings from the collection of the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive, puts the campaign for law reform in its historical context, charts the progress of reform proposals through parliament and illustrates the impact the change in law had on the gay rights movement.


1954 The government appoints Sir John Wolfenden to head a Committee examining the law on male homosexuality and prostitution.

1957 The Committee publishes its report. Its recommendations: homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one, in private, be no longer a criminal offence.

1958 The Homosexual Law Reform Society is founded to lobby the Government to implement the Wolfenden recommendations.

1958 House of Commons debates the Wolfenden Report for the first time. The Home Secretary, Rab Butler, rejects calls to implement the proposal on homosexuality.

1960 Labour MP Kenneth Robinson proposes a motion calling on the Government to enact in law the Wolfenden recommendations. This is defeated on a vote.

1960 Labour MP Leo Abse attempts to introduce legislation to mitigate the effects of the existing laws on homosexuality. This measure is debated and defeated in the Commons.

1965 Lord Arran introduces his Sexual Offences Bill into the House of Lords. Despite opponents such as Lord Montgomery, it is passed in October.

1965 Leo Abse‘s attempt to introduce the same Bill into the Commons is unsuccessful.

1966 Conservative MP Humphry Berkeley‘s Sexual Offences Bill successfully passes its First and Second Reading in the Commons. However, a general election is called, and the Bill’s process is scuppered. Berkeley loses his seat at the subsequent general election.

1966 Leo Abse reintroduces his Sexual Offences Bill into the Commons.

1967 The Sexual Offences Bill passes its Third Reading in the Commons on the 4th of July. It receives the royal assent on the 21st of July.

Next page: 2. Gay life in the 1950s and 1960s

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