Marriage, divorce and sexuality

Parliament has played an important part in regulating aspects of private life. Over the past two centuries or more it has been making and amending the law to accommodate changing attitudes to personal relationships and sexuality.


Parliamentary intervention in these issues has often been the outcome of long processes of investigation and public debate.

All kinds of interest groups and organisations have engaged in lobbying and discussion with Parliament. The business of bringing about change in sensitive matters of private life has rarely taken place overnight.


Many outside organisations have carried on their campaigns for decades before achieving any result. Quite often this has been because Parliament has not been convinced that the time has been right for change.

There has of course been a steady transformation of social attitudes within Parliament itself. In the male-dominated world of Victorian Westminster, Parliament was simply not used to hearing arguments about sexual equality between husbands and wives.

Liberal attitudes

To begin with, change was slow and difficult to achieve. However, the enfranchisement of women in the aftermath of the First World War opened the way towards more liberal attitudes.

Related information

Current parliamentary business on the topic of marriage, divorce, cohabitation and civil partnerships