Homosexuals in the Armed Forces


  • Until the Defence Secretary changed the rules in January 2000, homosexual behaviour was a ground for discharge from the Armed Forces.1
  • There was also a long-standing provision that adultery was a ground for discharge, but this was removed at a later date.2
  • Members of Armed Forces are asked to give up many of the freedoms enjoyed by civilians for the service of their country.
  • Service life necessarily involves close contact in confined spaces in such places as trenches, barracks, snowholes, tents, or tanks.
  • Male and female service personnel have separate accommodation and facilities in the Armed Forces. Historically, only married couples were permitted to live together in Ministry of Defence homes. However, the Ministry of Defence announced in February 2005 that same-sex civil partners in the Armed Forces would be allowed to live in married family quarters.3

Biblical arguments

Modesty is necessary

The Bible teaches that sexual temptation came about following the fall of man. Adam and Eve realised they were naked and God provided them with clothing (Genesis 3:7, 21).

In the context of an analogy relating to the church, Paul says of the body that “the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty” (1 Corinthians 12:23).

Sexual temptation is universal

Probably everyone experiences sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is particularly true of men. Homosexual temptation is not sinful. Yielding to it is. The same applies to heterosexual temptation.

Temptation must be guarded against

Even in the secular world it is accepted that there must be appropriate modesty and that sexual temptation must be guarded against. Men and women do not share the same public lavatories. There are separate changing facilities at sports grounds. Boys and girls in boarding schools have separate dormitories. All this is accepted without question.

The New Testament says that even a hint of immodesty is to be guarded against. Paul urged women to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety…” (1 Timothy 2:9).

Jesus Christ warned that lustful thoughts constitute adultery in the heart: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Job covenanted not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1) and was praised by God as being “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8).

Lustful thoughts lead to sinful actions. James speaks of this progression: “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin…” (James 1:14-15).

To minimise the problems of sexual temptation and for reasons of modesty, society accepts that the sexes must have separate facilities in many areas of life.

For this reason no one subject to homosexual temptation could in good conscience serve in a combat unit. The level of temptation involved would be overwhelming because of the nature of service life. This argument can also be used against women service personnel serving in combat units, though there are many other biblical reasons why women should not serve in the front line.

Key points

Privacy and decency

  • Allowing homosexuals in the Armed Forces is equivalent to allowing heterosexual men to share accommodation and washing facilities with female personnel.
  • Restrictions on privacy are an inevitable part of being in the Armed Forces. The nature of service life requires at times very close and inescapable proximity for lengthy periods with one’s fellow comrades. These conditions could include trenches, snowholes, tents, barracks, and vehicles.
  • ‘Snuggling up’ to share body heat is not unusual in missions in certain parts of the world. Sharing showers in the services is a matter of routine. There are also circumstances where there is virtually no privacy with lavatory facilities.
  • Heterosexual men have the right not to be the objects of sexual desire when service life requires them to sleep, shower and work in extremely close proximity to other men. If we are to require male Armed Forces members to share accommodation with other men who may be sexually attracted to them, why continue to separate male and female service personnel?
  • The Ministry of Defence Report of the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team (HPAT) carried out in 1996 listed 13 contexts in which service personnel have to serve in extremely close proximity.4
  • The HPAT report commented on the consequence of a blanket lifting of the ban: “This would mean heterosexuals being unable to escape the sexualised gazes of others who might see potential objects of physical desire rather than simply the often naked bodies of comrades. It would often also mean unwillingly colluding in potentially erotic situations through touching, lying alongside or having constantly to brush past homosexuals.”5

A ban is legitimate because of homosexual temptation

  • Homosexual soldiers may well be just as able to shoot people as any other soldier. They may be capable of heroic acts, but the reason for the ban is because service life is incompatible with homosexuality. Homosexuals would inevitably experience temptations in exactly the same way as any male heterosexual soldier would if they ever shared washing and sleeping facilities with females. It is absurd to think that such a situation would not profoundly damage combat effectiveness.
  • The HPAT report said: “Unlike homosexuality, marital infidelity and alcoholism are only grounds for discharge when they actually happen, because their potential occurrence does not affect the military community. Homosexuality, by contrast… has an impact upon other serving personnel, even if activity is not engaged in.”6

Cohesion and unity of personnel undermined

  • Before the Government lifted the ban, the House of Commons Select Committee Report on the Armed Forces Bill in 1996 said that lifting it would have “a significant adverse impact on morale and, ultimately, operational effectiveness”.7This was the same as the conclusion reached by the MOD Enquiry.
  • The Armed Forces are there to defend our country. They fulfil a unique purpose; they do not have to mirror the democracy they defend. Different conditions are necessarily applied.

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has held that an absolute ban on homosexuals serving in the forces constituted a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.8The Court did not demand a complete lifting of the ban. It would have been possible for the Government to have kept restrictions in some areas and lifted them in others. But the Government did not even attempt this.

Women serving in the Forces are not required to share accommodation with men. Everyone would accept that it would be a clear infringement of privacy if women were forced to share sleeping accommodation or to shower with men.

It should equally be an infringement of privacy to require a serviceman to shower or to sleep in close proximity to another man who may be sexually attracted to him. The European Court of Human Rights has failed to take homosexual desire seriously.

Following the ECHR judgment heterosexual members of the Armed Forces could argue that their Article 8 rights will be infringed if they are put in a position where they are required to be in close proximity to those who may be sexually attracted to them.

  1. 1For example, see the Report of the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team, Ministry of Defence, February 1996, pages 9 to 12, and Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct: Policy Statement and the Service Test, 2000
  2. 2See, for example, The Telegraph Online, 7 August 2014, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11017046/Affairs-in-the-military-a-matter-of-life-and-death.html as at 4 February 2016 and JSP 887 Diversity Inclusion & Social Conduct Defence Strategy and Social Conduct Code to Meet Public Sector Equality Duties, Ministry of Defence, November 2014, pages 6 and 7
  3. 3The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2005
  4. 4Report of the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team, Ministry of Defence, February 1996, pages 120-121
  5. 5Ibid, page 120
  6. 6Ibid, page 240, para. 204
  7. 7The Times, 8 May 1996
  8. 8Lustig-Prean and Becket v United Kingdom; Smith and Grady v United Kingdom, The Times, 11 October 1999