Research prompts re-think of outdated UK armed forces law

A legal anomaly, uncovered by a researcher in our Department of Sociology, has prompted a review of laws relating to homosexual men and women in the UK armed forces

British army field training exercise Credit: Flickr/US army Europe

Research by a sociologist at York is set to overturn discriminatory laws that enable homosexual men and women to be sacked from the armed forces.

Professor Paul Johnson, an expert in law and sexual orientation, submitted written evidence to the UK Parliament and worked with MPs to highlight the legal anomaly.

Statute law

His research uncovered statute law which states that engaging in a homosexual act could constitute grounds for discharge from the forces.

The practice of discharging homosexuals from the forces was abandoned in 2000, but the law remained in place and in force.

Now a Government amendment has been added to the current Armed Forces Bill in order to repeal the legislation. The amendment was added unopposed last month (January 2016) and the Bill now proceeds to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

“The Parliamentary passage of this amendment tells us much about the degree of change there has been in the armed forces and in society more generally,” says Professor Johnson.

Strong signal

“It sends a strong signal that the days of the State tolerating any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the armed forces are well and truly over.”

Professor Johnson submitted evidence to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill with former Lieutenant Commander Duncan Lustig-Prean. Their submission argued that provisions relating to homosexual acts and the armed forces, in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, served no purpose and were discriminatory.

“Although the provisions were effectively made redundant by the change in Ministry of Defence policy relating to homosexuality and the armed forces in 2000, we argued that they could not be regarded as entirely ‘dead letter’,” says Professor Johnson.

Contribution

His contribution to the debate was mentioned in the House of Commons by Defence Minister Mark Lancaster and former Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones.

“Around the world, people are still being disciplined and discharged from armed forces jobs because they are gay. Research carried out in the Department of Sociology at York has helped highlight the fact that such discrimination is wrong,” said Professor Johnson.

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It sends a strong signal that the days of the State tolerating any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the armed forces are well and truly over”

Professor Paul Johnson
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Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

Professor Johnson has research interests in the relationship between law, human rights, sexual orientation and intimacy

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A blog by Professor Johnson - UK Parliament Poised to Repeal Final Discriminatory Law Relating to Homosexuality and the Armed Forces - was published in the Huffington Post

See further coverage in Forces TV and the Daily Express