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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 4, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 36
Lord Montagu dies at 88
Brit aristocrat helped legalize Gay sex
Section One
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Lord Montagu dies at 88
Brit aristocrat helped legalize Gay sex

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the British aristocrat whose 1954 trial for 'gross indecency' led to the legalization of Gay sex in Britain, died August 31 at the age of 88.

In Britain at the time 'gross indecency' was a catchall term for any physical intimacy between men.

Montagu, whose full name - Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu - reveals his upper class pedigree, was convicted of the crime along with his cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and journalist Peter Wildeblood, and sentenced to up to 18 months in prison.

The case had its origins in a summer fling. Montagu invited his friend Wildeblood to a party at a riverfront cottage on his estate. Wildeblood brought two handsome young RAF men, and Pitt-Rivers also stopped by.

British police were already interested in Montagu because of previous complaints that he had sex with an under-age boy at the same cottage, and Montagu, Wildeblood, and Pitt-Rivers were arrested on charges of 'buggery' - a quaint medieval term for Gay sex - and 'conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons.'

'There was this crash-bang, bang-bang on the door,' Montagu remembered. 'The press had been tipped off, and were already there.'

While the prosecution tried to portray the evening as a horrible Gay orgy, Montagu later said it had been pretty tame stuff. 'We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that's all,' he recalled. Wildewood remembered the night as 'extremely dull.'

The press played the story up with lurid headlines, but the publicity backfired on the prosecution. Although the government was able to get a conviction on the lesser charge of gross indecency, the public was sympathetic to the defendants.

Within three years of the trial, the British government convened the Wolfendon Committee, named for its chairman Lord Wolfendon, to investigate why so many well-placed men were going to jail for Gay sex. The committee ultimately recommended that 'homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.' Parliament did not act on the recommendation till 1967, however.

After serving his sentence, Montagu went back to his aristocratic pursuits, becoming Britain's leading collector of race cars.

Wildeblood came out as Gay during their trial, but Montagu never discussed his sexuality in public until a 2000 interview with the Daily Echo newspaper, in which he identified as Bisexual.

'My attraction to both sexes neither changed nor diminished at university and it was comforting to find that I was not the only person faced with such a predicament,' he told the reporter. 'I agonized less than my contemporaries, for I was reconciled to my bisexuality, but I was still nervous about being exposed.'

Montagu married twice and had three children.

In a 2007 interview with the Evening Standard newspaper, Montagu explained why he felt unable to be out during his 1954 trial.

'People can't understand it now,' Montagu told the newspaper. 'They can't imagine the furtiveness. As someone said at the time, the skies over Chelsea were black with people burning their love letters.'

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