The Wolfenden Report of 1957 recommended decriminalizing homosexual acts involving adult males over 21. However, it was shelved by the Tory government, fearing a public backlash if it was implemented. The Report made it clear that, although in favour of law reform, it was in no way suggesting that society should condone or approve of homosexual behaviour. It also flagged up concern that the decriminalising of homosexual acts could result in 'large-scale proselytising' by homosexuals, which is indeed what would happen. The Times newspaper, in favour of reform, said that any change in the law 'will not be won by the presentation of homosexuality as something to be regarded as other than unnatural, sinful, and to be resisted wherever possible'.
In a parliamentary debate in July 1960, called to implement the recommendation, the proposer Labour MP Kenneth Robinson acknowledged that the subject 'is one that is distasteful and even repulsive to many people', adding that he did not regard homosexuality 'as a desirable way of life'. In opposing the proposal Conservative MP Godfrey Langdon described homosexuals as 'people with warped minds who have little self control' and who were 'a dirty minded danger to the virile manhood of this country'. Dr Broughton MP looked upon homosexuality 'as biologically wrong, and that any encouragement of it would damage society' adding that 'homosexual practice should remain an offence to show our disapproval of this type of conduct'. Conservative Edward Gardner believed that if the law were changed 'there would be nothing except ethical standards, or the condemnation of society, to prevent two males living together as lovers. That, as a matter of commonsense, would be the worst possible example one could give to youth'. Presciently, Conservative MP William Deedes suggested that 'no man will willingly submit unresistingly to a social stigma. There will follow a change in the law....an effort to prove that homosexuality has its virtues.' Robinson's motion to decriminalize was defeated 213-99 on a free vote, with 150 Conservative and 41 Labour MPs voting against.
The arrival of Roy Jenkins as Labour Home Secretary in 1965, with an agenda for social reform, set the scene for the liberalisation of the law against homosexuality. However, when Parliament debated the Sexual Offences Bill which sought to decriminalise homosexual activities, all those who expressed their support prefaced their comments with a condemnation of the practice of homosexuality. They considered that the law should be changed, not because they considered such activity morally acceptable, but for more humane reasons, principally to remove the fear of blackmail. They also considered that the law should no longer police private activity of this kind. The measure was generally perceived as a gesture of tolerance to a persecuted minority who many now thought posed little threat to mainstream society. Lord Arran who promoted the Bill in the House of Lords concluded that 'any form of ostentatious behaviour; now or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done. Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good.Lest the opponents of the Bill think that a new freedom, a new privileged class, has been created, let me remind them that no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision, or at best of pity'.
Had it been possible to write this blog fifty years ago it would have supported the decriminalisation of homosexual activities between adult males. Unquestionably, at that time homosexuals were persecuted for their private sexual behaviour. This was a gross and unwarranted intrusion by the state into their private affairs as citizens. Moreover, the police shamelessly abused their position by such means as trawling through address books to frame individuals, and by the use of agent provocateurs to facilitate entrapment. The Labour government was right to implement the Wolfenden Report recommendations in 1967, since the state should have no place in policing the private sexual activities of its citizens. However, matters did not rest there. It came as an unwelcome surprise to many, when homosexuals, or 'gays' as they now chose to describe themselves, quickly started to openly parade what many considered to be a deviant lifestyle and to claim further rights and 'equality', whilst at the same time stressing their perceived victimhood.