Photo by Christian Buehner on Unsplash
The UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group was created in 1993 as the Stonewall Immigration Group by same sex couples and their lawyers to share information, lobby for change and support lesbians and gay men wanting to remain together in the UK on the basis of their relationships.
In 1992, the politicisation of the immigration rights of same sex couples began when four couples decided to apply to the Home Office for permission to remain together based on their relationships.
Each couple contacted Stonewall Lobby Group. The group was not working on the issue of immigration, but suggested, and offered a venue for, the four couples and their lawyers to meet to share information.
A detailed history describing the first attempts by the founding couples and their solicitors, government response and the lobbying of both government and opposition (and what happened next) has been written by one of the founding lawyers, Wesley Gryk, for LGBT+ history month in February 2020. Read Wesley’s blog here.
Seeking leave to remain
Each of the couples consisted of successful individuals who could make a significant contribution to British society and there might have been a temptation to argue their cases on the basis that they were exceptional. One of the original foreign partners, however, reflecting on the history 25 years on, said:
“We did not think of ourselves as ‘exceptional’ or special at all. If anything, we always thought that as people, as couples, we had an inherent right to fight for this and be recognised. It was about time.”
At initial meetings, there had been some wariness about being seen to organise as a lobbying group or to make it known to the Home Office that they were working with other couples. However, the process of politicisation began as the foreign partner in each couple was refused leave to remain and entered the complex system of immigration appeals.
It became clear that there was strength in working collectively and the couples formed the Stonewall Immigration Group, separate but loosely connected to the Stonewall Lobby Group. From that time until now, the Immigration Group has held monthly meetings where couples facing immigration problems can come to share experiences and seek advice.
As the Immigration Group organised more effectively, more and more people made applications for a foreign partner to be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
The effort and resilience of couples prepared to fight difficult legal battles, together with lawyers who used every available legal and political method to pursue their clients’ cases, plus the strong support of the Immigration Group, resulted in a number of significant successes.
Stonewall Immigration Group march at Gay Pride in July 1996
In early 1994 the Immigration Appeal Tribunal decided that the Home Secretary had improperly responded to two applications made on same sex relationships when he simply dismissed them as falling outside the Immigration Rules. The highest immigration court in the United Kingdom recognised that a parallel could, and indeed should, be drawn between the way in which married partners and same sex partners were treated.
In May 1994 one of the original member couples of the Stonewall Immigration Group had arranged for their MP to schedule an adjournment debate on their case in the House of Commons. The then immigration minister admitted, for the first time, that there might be such a thing as a policy on same sex couples.
The Immigration Group monitored the approach taken by the Home Office and observed an apparent change of policy in cases decided after April 1995. Between April 1995 and May 1997, the group became aware of twenty cases where applications by the foreign same sex partner were successful. Once some cases began to be favourably considered, the Immigration Group gained impetus. While the Home Office remained unprepared to articulate what its policy was, lawyers arguing in the courts could point to the existence of what appeared to be an emerging policy.
Sadly, if one examined the trend in such applications, many, very possibly most, of them were granted – rather cynically – on the basis that the foreign applicant was the partner of a gay male suffering the effects of serious HIV-related symptoms and that the presence of the foreign partner as a carer would reduce the costs of such cases to the NHS and Social Services in caring for the British-based partner until his death.
It was also the case that a handful of positive decisions were taken with respect to individuals whom the Home Office took to be worthy of special treatment because of the accomplishments or notoriety which they had achieved in their professional lives.
First positive recognition of lesbian and gay couples in British law
The Immigration Group engaged in serious lobbying activities in the run up to the May 1997 general election. The Group succeeded in obtaining the commitment of the Shadow Home Secretary that if elected, a Labour government would recognise lesbian and gay relationships for immigration purposes.
Once Labour achieved power, the Group lobbied hard to ensure this commitment was kept and within days of the election obtained the agreement of the immigration minister that all outstanding appeals relating to unsuccessful same sex relationship applications should be adjourned until a new policy was in place.
In October 1997 the Unmarried Partners Concession was announced, which recognised same-sex relationships. It was the very first legal recognition of lesbian and gay couples in British law. A concession is not written in the immigration rules but is something which immigration officials follow and implement nonetheless. The concession made it possible for same sex partners to make an application for the foreign partner to remain in the United Kingdom if they had lived together for four years.
The four-year cohabitation requirement created an impossible stumbling block for many couples and the Immigration Group continued to lobby and to challenge the policy through the courts. In June 1999, the Unmarried Partners Concession was amended and the cohabitation period was reduced to two years.
Equal immigration rights
In October 2000, the Unmarried Partners Concession became an Immigration Rule, an important development as a Rule is a statutory instrument and of far more importance than a concession.
Finally, in November 2004 the Civil Partnership Bill was passed. Once this legislation came into use in December 2005, it ensured equal immigration rights for same sex couples.
New directions – supporting LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum
Having finally achieved victory, more than 11 years since the Group began, we refocused our work to support those with the most pressing immigration need – people seeking asylum.
Initially focused on lesbian and gay asylum seekers, over time our work has expanded to include support for bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people. UKLGIG now supports people seeking asylum whose case relates to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics and campaigns to improve the asylum system in the UK and abroad for LGBTQI+ people.
To donate to UKLGIG, please visit Virgin Money Giving