‘Unnatural Acts’: Discourses of homosexuality within the House of Lords debates on gay male law reform



Between 1998 and 2000, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom debated and rejected a Bill to equalise the age of sexual consent for gay men with the age of consent for heterosexual sex at sixteen years. A corpus-based keywords analysis of these debates uncovered the main lexical differences between oppositional stances, and helped to shed light on the ways that discourses of homosexuality were constructed by the Lords. In the debates the word homosexual was associated with acts, whereas gay was linked to identities. Those who argued in favour of law reform focused on a discourse of equality and tolerance, while those who were against law reform constructed homosexuality by accessing discourses linking it to danger, ill health, crime and unnatural behaviour. The discussion focuses on the ways that discourses can be constructed via chains of argumentation.