The Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) equality for decades. We have the best record in Parliament of any political party on LGBT+ equality issues, and we continue to develop and promote progressive policies for LGBT+ people. The Liberal Democrat Federal Constitution makes our position clear:
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
Unlike the big two parties, the Liberal Democrats' LGBT+ equality body is an official part of the party. We aren't an external body trying to lobby Lib Dem MPs to support LGBT+ equality - we have powers to put Liberal Democrat policy ideas on the Conference floor, and have them supported by the party's ordinary membership, without relying on the good graces or whims of a bigwig.
We use that power to make sure that for decades, the Lib Dems have had the most progressive policies on LGBT equality. Many of our policies have eventually become law, as the other parties look to us for ideas to appeal to the "pink vote". We have a good record of introducing LGBT equality legislation through Private Members' Bills and amendments, and the best voting record in the Houses of Parliament.
... then please support the Liberal Democrats as we build on our proud history of LGBT equality into a bright future for all!
In autumn 1975, the Liberal Party (as the party was then called) passed a resolution in favour of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality's Law Reform Bill, and called upon the party's peers and MPs to support the Bill in Parliament. The bill was the first proposed legislation to talk about full equality for homosexuals, including equalising the age of consent for gay sex (which was 21 in those days).
This makes the Lib Dems the first party to support full equality for homosexuals.
When the Conservative's Local Government Bill's provisions to stop the "promotion" of homosexuality were introduced, the Lib Dems opposed the legislation from the outset. We were clear that teachers must be allowed to support pupils who come out to them, and schools must be allowed to provide information that presents homosexuality as valid and normal - something we're still fighting for over 20 years later!
In Parliamentary debates rife with Tory homophobia and hatred, Lib Dem spokesman Simon Hughes made the party's liberal position of equality clear:
It epitomises the way in which Conservative Members have sought to raise the spectre of local authorities, especially those supported by other political parties, campaigning for the mass transformation - if that is biologically and genetically possible - of the land into a cast of rampaging homosexuals.
I do not believe that homosexuals want their sexuality to be promoted any more than anyone else does. They would argue not for discrimination in their favour, but for equal treatment with everyone else. They want their sexuality to be accepted and to have equal access to jobs, housing, social and medical help, advice and particularly the sort of advice and counselling that take place during education and growing up.
We should allow local authorities as the agents of Government throughout Britain to teach that homosexuality is to be accepted.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has made his position on Section 28 clear:
Gay rights, like all minority rights, should by now have become unquestionable. But in practice they are still too often treated like privileges, falling in and out of favour with politicians. David Cameron's recent apology over Section 28 is a prime example. Leadership is about speaking out on issues when they matter, not simply when you judge public opinion has moved.
Not one Tory voted against the introduction of Section 28 - and not one Liberal voted for it!
Repeal of Section 28 was a pledge in the 1997 Liberal Democrat election manifesto. The Liberal Democrats in the Lords unanimously supported provisions in the Local Government Bill 2000 to repeal Section 28. Unfortunately, almost all Conservative peers, along with some Labour, voted for a Tory amendment to remove these provisions.
In the Commons, the Lib Dems supported the removal of the Lords amendment. Back in the Lords, the removal was supported unanimously by the Lib Dems, but rejected by almost all Tories and some Labour peers - and Section 28 remained law.
In 2003, the Lib Dems tabled an amendment to the Local Government Bill to repeal Section 28, and voted unanimously in favour of it. Lib Dem spokesperson Ed Davey said:
It is time the House grew up, realised how our constituents are living out there, stopped hiding in the past, and removed this odious legislation from the statute book once and for all.
In 1994, the Lib Dems unanimously supported amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to reduce the age of consent for homosexual sex to 16, bringing it in line with heterosexual sex. The amendment was crushed by a vast majority of Tories, with Labour split.
A second vote immediately afterwards lowered the age of consent to 18, which was again supported by the Liberal Democrats. During the debate, spokesman Simon Hughes said:
There is an absolutely overwhelming requirement to be just to people for whom the law at the moment is unjust.
Lib Dem peer Lord Lester introduced a Civil Partnerships Bill in 2002, supported by Stonewall. The bill recieved wide support but was withdrawn at the Government's request, because they intended to introduce their own legislation.
It took two years for the Government's Civil Partnerships Bill to reach Parliament. Lib Dem Steve Webb MP pushed the Government as to whether, like Lord Lester's bill, it would allow civil partnerships between mixed-sex couples, but the Government ruled it out.
The Liberal Democrats were the only major party to unanimously support the Civil Partnerships Bill in the Commons second reading. Alistair Carmichael said:
The Liberal Democrats are pleased to give the Bill a warm and unequivocal welcome. We see it as an opportunity to offer the same rights and opportunities to people in same-sex relationships as are currently offered to people in civil marriages of mixed sex. It is an opportunity to offer fair and equal treatment to all in our society today, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Liberal Democrats supported amendments to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to allow adoption by unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. We unanimously opposed Conservative attempts in the Lords to reject these amendments.
Allowing trans people to change the gender on their birth certificate had been Liberal Democrat party policy since 1998. It was six years until the Gender Recognition Act came along, and it was wholeheartedly supported by the Lib Dems. The Tories in the House of Lords tried to destroy the legislation but were opposed by the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems also opposed a second Tory amendment to allow religious organisations to discriminate against trans people.
The Lib Dems submitted an amendment that would allow trans people to keep marriage arrangements with their partner after a legal gender reassignment. This would have saved couples from having to divorce and get a civil partnership (which were not yet legal at the time of the debate!) The amendment was unanimously supported by the Lib Dems, but voted down near-unanimously by Labour and Tory peers. During committee debates on the matter, Evan Harris remarked:
My party's position on the matter is clear ... The question is one of a balance of harms. I have to ask the Minister: what harm will result from the creation of, even as he sees it, a very small number of same-sex marriages? ... Will the earth blow up? Will the sky fall in? Will the fabric of society be undermined? No, it will not ... There will be a terrible dilemma for individuals-for the sake of legislative tidiness.
The majority of Liberal Democrat MPs rejected two amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 which would have denied fertility treatment for women in the absence of a male parent or role model. These amendments were overwhelmingly supported by the Conservatives.
In 2008, the Liberal Democrats adopted official policy that LGBT people with genuine claims of persecution over their sexuality or gender identity should be granted asylum in this country rather than face imprisonment, torture or murder. This was in response to several Labour attempts to deport several LGBT asylum seekers, including Medhi Kazemi whose case was supported by Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, and Israfil Shiri who committed suicide rather than face deportation. Chris Huhne MP said:
It is totally unacceptable for Britain to be deporting people to countries where they will face persecution, torture or death merely because of their sexual orientation. This country has a proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing tyranny and oppression. It is about time that practice was extended to gay and lesbian people escaping deeply unpleasant homophobic regimes.
Lib Dem Equality spokesperson Lynne Featherstone tabled amendments to the Equality Act 2010, calling for the legislation to recognise all trans people whether or not they have had or wish to have sex reassignment surgery. These amendments were not taken up for discussion by the Government.
Before the General Election in 2010, Nick Clegg made his position on equal marriage clear: "All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another." In September 2010, the Liberal Democrat party voted at Conference to support equal marriage and civil partnerships. This made them the first major UK political party, as well as the first party of Government, to support this position.
On 17th February 2011, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister Lynne Featherstone announced a Government consultation into equal marriage and civil partnership in the UK. The consultation covers:
Lynne said, "Over recent months I have spoken to many LGB&T people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships. I have always been completely clear that equal rights means exactly that - the same rights, not different rights."
Later in 2011, Lynne Featherstone announced that, at the very least, civil equal marriage would be legislated within the current Parliament. The consultation will be about how to deliver it, not whether.
On 15th March 2012, the Government consultation was opened to discuss how to implement equal civil marriage. The consultation also asks for opinions on religious same-sex marriage, and extending civil partnerships to mixed-gender couples. LGBT+ Lib Dems published a guide to the consultation at the About Time website.
In 2011 the Liberal Democrats adopted policy calling on Britain's blood donation rules to be based on the risk of the individual, not on sexuality. This rejected the SABTO 12-month deferral, citing the fact that a patient can receive the blood of a man who has multiple unprotected sexual encounters with strange women, but not that of a man who has been in a loving sexual relationship with another man since both were virgins, with protected sex and regular STI checks. LGBT+ Liberal Democrats are working on evidence-based policy to demonstrate more effective and less discriminatory ways to SABTO of protecting the blood supply and the health of recipients.