14 February 2016

This Valentine's Day, Tom Morrison of LGBT equality charity Stonewall explains why we should love our Human Rights Act...

It’s Valentine’s Day! And the good news is, even if you’re single it is still worth celebrating because, thanks to the Human Rights Act, everyone in the UK has the right to share their lives with the ones they love in the way they choose. At Stonewall, we love the Human Rights Act because it underpins so much of the progress we and others have made towards lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) equality in the UK.  Significantly, the Act protects everyone’s right to a private and family life, including LGBT people, and means that the state can’t discriminate in the way people enjoy these rights.

We thought we’d share a couple of important ways our human rights protections have helped out LGBT people this Valentine’s Day…

In 2002, a trans woman named Christine Goodwin appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that her right to a private life and right to marry had been violated. Despite living and working as a woman, under the eyes of British law, Christine was still considered male. This meant that she could not draw a pension at 60, felt unable to use her birth certificate as a form of ID, and so could not access benefits like winter fuel allowance. Significantly, the law also prevented her from marrying a man. The ECHR ruled on this basis that her right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), and right to live free from discrimination (Article 14), were being denied in the UK. This led to the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act in 2004, which, whilst not perfect, provided a whole range of rights to trans people in the UK for the first time.

In 1999, the ECHR ruled in favour of two British naval personnel who were dismissed, on separate occasions, after the Royal Navy found out they were gay.  It was ruled that both people’s right to respect for private life (Article 8) had been breached. This landmark case was key to a change in policy which now means that lesbian, gay and bisexual people can serve in the armed forces. After all, why should who you happen to be attracted to have anything to do with that!

In 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed, bringing 16 of the human rights from the European Convention on Human Rights home into UK law. Now we can start our human rights claims in a UK court, with the ECHR as a last resort. Whilst there is clearly still a way to go before we reach full equality, many major milestones have been reached. LGBT people should have the right to walk down the street, to go to school or to work free from abuse and bullying, to access services free from discrimination and, crucially, to seek justice when these rights are denied. Without the Human Rights Act, the protections LGBT people do have could so easily slip away. 

So needless to say, here at Stonewall we are deeply concerned by the government’s intention to scrap the Act and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. There is still a lot of uncertainty around what this new legislation would look like and what it would mean for LGBT people and their rights.

Every day, around the world, LGBT people face discrimination and persecution simply because of who they are and who they love. Same-sex relationships are illegal in 75 countries and each year, one in 20 trans people in Europe will experience a violent hate crime. In the UK, we can enjoy our rights because of our Human Rights Act, and this sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that we measure ourselves by the same standards that we expect others to measure themselves against. Repealing the Act would be an enormous step backwards.

One of the few certainties in all of this is that any repeal of the Human Rights Act will have to be opened up for consultation. When this happens Stonewall, alongside many other organisations and individuals, will submit evidence to demonstrate why a repeal of the Act is wrong. Show the Human Rights Act some love and make sure you tell the government why you want it to stay too!

Tom Morrison