Be Drunk To Spend Time With Fools

For gay rights, the 90s marked a distinctive period of change…some good, and some bad. The second half of the 90s set the scene for the political victories, and tragedies, that would define the new millennium.

In 1993, Norway enacted a civil partnership law which allowed same-sex couples to register in civil unions; in 1995 so did Sweden; in 1996 Iceland; and in 1999 France. In 1994, Israel passed unregistered cohabitation recognition, which afforded the same rights as heterosexual unregistered cohabitation and in 1997, the UK passed a bill allowing same-sex couples the same immigration rights as heterosexual couples. In the United States, however, the federal government enacted Pub.L 104-199, commonly referred to as the Defence of Marriage Act. DOMA, along with several other statutes passed at during the same Congress, prevented the United States federal government from recognising same-sex marriages, even though legally recognised by various states. Under federal law, same-sex couples could not gain recognition as spouses, preventing same-sex couples from receiving any marriage benefits. DOMA also restricted the ability of same-sex spouses from other nations from entering the United States on a spousal Visa. Although DOMA did not prevent states from legally recognising same-sex marriage, it did allow for the rights of states which banned same-sex marriage from recognising same-sex marriages performed in other states. DOMA’s restrictions wouldn’t be felt until April 2000, when Vermont became the first US state to recognise same-sex marriage.

On 12 January 1998, in the UK town of Bolton, 7 men were convicted of gross indecency under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956 which still criminalised sex with more than one person, videotaping of acts of sodomy (even consensually), and one of the 7 was under 18 at the time of arrest, which violated sodomy age of consent (which was 18). Activist group OutRage! staged a high profile campaign against the convictions, which resulted in 3 of the men being listed on the sexual offences registry. OutRage, along with Amnesty International, led a successful publicity campaign, which was arguably, the only reason none of the 7 were imprisoned. In 2000, 6 of the men appealed to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that their prosecution violated their right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights. They were awarded compensation, which was paid out by the Home Office, and their records expunged. In 2003 a massive overhaul of the UK sexual offences legislation repealed all mentions of gross indecency and buggery, repealed a provision which stated that sex between more than two men was illegal, and equalised heterosexual and homosexual age of consent at 16.

During the second half of the 90s, sodomy was decimalised in Albania and Moldova (1995); Romania, Macedonia, Macau (1996); Ecuador, Venezuela, Tasmania (1997), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, South Cyprus and Tajikistan (1998)… in the United States, however, no state decriminalised sodomy…and sodomy laws were Constitutionally upheld by the SCOTUS decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.

On 30 April 1999, a gay pub in the Soho neighbourhood of London was bombed by Neo-Nazi David Copeland. The bombing of the Admiral Duncan resulted in 3 dead and over 70 wounded, the worst direct gay violence the UK had seen. The attack on the Admiral Duncan was Copeland’s third in an attempt to create homophobic tensions throughout the City. He failed, and in June 2000 he was conviction of murder and domestic terrorism and sentence to 6 concurrent life sentences.

American politics are interesting. The Christian conservative nature of the creation of America, and traditional political factions, created a nation not adept to change. In particular, the United States has a love-hate relationship with civil rights. Every single piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the US has done so after great struggle, and the impact of the struggle still exists today. While most of the world moved forward in terms of gay rights, the United States remained stagnant or moved backward. The second half of the 1990s was, in actuality, the beginning of a defining period in the new American struggle for civil rights.

Part XXVI- Homosexuality, Politics and the New Millennium


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