Is the Wolfenden Report a liberal document?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The Wolfenden Report is the legendary British document of 1957 that recommended the partial decriminalisation of men’s homosexual sex. The Report outlined the strategy of respect for “consenting adults in private” when governing matters of sexuality, that forms the basis for the modern regulation of sex, in Britain and Australia. More often than not, this revolution in sexual regulation is associated with the ideology of liberalism in its focus on the public and private spheres, and the implied “sexual freedom”, or liberty that many associate with the Report. These types of analyses owe much to Jeffrey Weeks and his characterisation of the Wolfenden Strategy as the period’s “most influential liberal statement”. In this paper I want to briefly discuss the idea that the Wolfenden Report is a “liberal” document. I examine the common arguments, that the Report was derived from the teachings of Bentham and Mill, and show the limitations of these analyses, by using the explanations of Hart and Devlin. To conclude, I suggest an alternative explanation for the Report that focuses less on ideals of liberty and sexual freedom, and instead highlights the controlling and punitive agenda of the Wolfenden Committee for sexual behaviours, and sexual identities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAustralasian Political Studies Association Conference
Subtitle of host publicationrefereed papers
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherMonash University Publishing
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventAustralasian Political Studies Association Conference - Melbourne
Duration: 24 Sept 200726 Sept 2007


ConferenceAustralasian Political Studies Association Conference


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