Britain to Outlaw All Sexual Activity in Armed Forces

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - The British government is drawing up a strict new code of conduct forbidding any sexual activity or displays of affection in the armed services. The move follows government acceptance of a recent European Court of Justice ruling, against banning homosexuals in the military, a ban which had been supported by the ruling Labor party and opposition Conservatives alike.

Critics feel the government should have challenged the right of a European court to rule in matters affecting Britain's security. Some argue that a prohibition on all sexual relations will exacerbate an already serious staff shortage by putting off existing or potential recruits.

The European decision in September brought an immediate reversal in policy from the British government, but it quickly found widespread antipathy among servicemen who oppose ending the ban on homosexual recruits.

The Ministry of Defense carried out a review of policies adopted elsewhere, and chose a model similar to the Australian one, which bans all sexual activity on base, all sexual relationships between officers of different ranks, and provides a channel for sexual harassment complaints.

The Australian code of conduct was introduced to coincide with the end of a ban on homosexuals in the armed services in 1992.

Among other models considered and discarded were those employed in Israel and the Netherlands - rejected as too liberal - and America's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which homosexual campaigners still regard as discriminatory.

The new code, and the end to the homosexual ban, could be in place by Christmas or the New Year, according to reports Monday. It will replace the current policy, which allows for flexibility depending on the service, unit and nature of the military environment. Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told British lawmakers last week "a revised policy that sustains operational effectiveness" was required.

The Strasbourg-based European court's finding that the dismissal from the British armed forces of four homosexuals was unlawful prompted Hoon's predecessor, George Robinson, to put on hold some 60 cases of service personnel under investigation. He said the British government was obliged to accept the ruling.

General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, a former NATO supreme allied commander, said the European tribunal should not interfere in the running of the British armed forces. Conservative Party lawmaker Gerald Howarth voiced outrage: "That a policy which commands the support of the government, the opposition and the [military] officers should be set aside because of a bunch of foreigners who will be nowhere to be seen if we have to go to war - this is absolutely unbelievable."

Conservative spokesman on defense, Iain Duncan Smith, has called for legal opinion on the European court decision. Stonewall, a "lesbian and gay lobbying group," said it welcomed both the imminent end to the ban, and "a code to deal with any improper sexual behavior."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow