LGBT rights in the United Kingdom
|LGBT rights in the United Kingdom|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Legal since:|
1967 (England and Wales),
1982 (Northern Ireland)
Age of consent equalised since 2001 for whole UK
|Gender identity/expression||Right to change legal gender since 2004|
|Civil partnerships since 2005|
Same-sex marriages conducted elsewhere are recognised as UK civil partnerships
|Adoption||Joint and stepchild adoption since:|
2005 (England and Wales),
|Military service||Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly since 2000|
|Discrimination protections||Sexual orientation and gender identity protections|
LGBT rights in the United Kingdom have gone from being totally non existent at the time of the formation of the United Kingdom, to the decriminalisation of sexual activity between males over the middle to late 20th century, and from then greater support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, in the early years of the twenty-first century. In 1707, English law identified anal intercourse and bestiality as offences punishable by hanging as a result of the Buggery Act 1533.
Discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal in housing, employment and the provision of goods and services, and Her Majesty's Armed Forces allows LGBT individuals to serve openly. Same-sex couples have had the right to adopt since 2002 and to enter into civil partnerships since 2005. The Gender Recognition Act also gave transsexuals the right to change their legal gender. However, same-sex marriage is not recognised in the United Kingdom.
Social attitudes towards homosexuality and LGBT rights are generally accepting. A 2007 survey conducted by YouGov indicated that 90% of the British public supported outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and a 2009 poll by Populus reported that 61% supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Since 8 January 2001 the age of consent has been 16, regardless of gender or sexual orientation under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.
History in England and Wales
At the time of the formation of the United Kingdom, English law identified anal intercourse and bestiality as offences punishable by hanging. In 1861 section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 removed the death penalty for homosexuality. However, male homosexual acts still remained illegal and were punishable by imprisonment and in 1885 section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 extended the laws regarding homosexuality to include any kind of sexual activity between males. Lesbians were never acknowledged or targeted by legislation.
In the early 1950s the police actively enforced laws prohibiting sexual behaviour between men. This policy led to a number of high-profile arrests and trials. One of those involved the noted scientist, mathematician, and war-time code-breaker Alan Turing (1912–1954), convicted in 1952 of "gross indecency". In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in response to a petition, issued an apology.
In 1953, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood were arrested and charged with having committed specific acts of indecency with Edward McNally and John Reynolds; they were also accused of conspiring with Edward Montagu (the 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu) to commit these offences. The Director of Public Prosecutions gave his assurance that Reynolds and McNally would not be prosecuted in any circumstances. The trial of Edward Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood began on 15 March 1954 in the hall of Winchester Castle. All three defendants were convicted.
The Sunday Times published an article entitled "Law and Hypocrisy" on 28 March 1954 that dealt with this trial and its outcome. Soon after, on 10 April 1954, the New Statesman printed an article called "The Police and the Montagu Case". A month after the Montagu trial the Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe agreed to appoint a committee to examine and report on the law covering homosexual offences. The official announcement in the House of Commons was made on 18 April 1954 by Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth. In August 1954, the Home Office appointed a departmental committee of fifteen men and women "to consider… the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts."
The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden Report) was published on 3 September 1957 and recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence", finding that "homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects."
In October 1957, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, spoke in support of the Wolfenden Report, saying that "There is a sacred realm of privacy… into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude. This is a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of human freedom, self-respect, and responsibility."
The first parliamentary debate on the Wolfenden Report was initiated on 4 December 1957 by Lord Pakenham. Of the seventeen peers who spoke in the debate, eight broadly supported the recommendations in the Wolfenden Report. Maxwell Fyfe, now ennobled as Lord Kilmuir and serving as Lord Chancellor, speaking for the government, doubted that there would be much public support for implementing the recommendations and stated that further research was required.
The Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded on 12 May 1958, mainly to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations.
Decriminalisation of homosexual acts—the 1967 Act
In 1965, in the House of Lords, Lord Arran proposed the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts (lesbian acts had never been illegal). In 1966 Humphry Berkeley made a similar proposal in the House of Commons; he ascribed his defeat in the 1966 general election to the unpopularity of this action. However, in the new Parliament, Labour MP Leo Abse took up the issue and used his mastery of Parliamentary tactics to ensure that the Bill progressed.
After almost ten years of campaigning, the Sexual Offences Bill was put before parliament in 1967 in order to implement some of the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations. Lord Arran, a sponsor of the Bill, made the following remarks at the third reading in the Lords:
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was accordingly passed. It maintained the general prohibitions on buggery and indecency between men, but provided for a limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts where three conditions were fulfilled. Those conditions were that the act had to be consensual, take place in private and involve only people that had attained the age of 21. This was a higher age of consent than that for heterosexual acts, which was set at 16. Further, "in private" limited participation in an act to two people. This condition was interpreted strictly by the courts, which took it to exclude acts taking place in a room in a hotel, for example, and in private homes where a third person was present (even if that person was in a different room).
The 1967 Act extended only to England and Wales, and not to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, where all homosexual behaviour remained illegal. Organisations such as the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front therefore continued to campaign for the goal of full equality.
1967–1994—further reform and section 28
In 1979, the Home Office Policy Advisory Committee's Working Party report, Age of Consent in Relation to Sexual Offences, recommended that the age of consent for homosexual activities should be reduced to 18. No such legislation was enacted as a result. However, homosexual activities were legalised in Scotland on the same basis as in the 1967 Act, by section 80 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which came into force on 1 February 1981. An analogous amendment was also made to the law of Northern Ireland, following the determination of a case by the European Court of Human Rights (see Dudgeon v. United Kingdom); the relevant legislation was an Order in Council, the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which came into force on 8 December 1982.
The 1980s also saw a setback for LGBT rights. The availability in the libraries of schools run by the Inner London Education Authority of a book considered by some to 'promote' homosexuality led to protests and a campaign for new legislation. Consequently, in 1988, the Conservative led government included in the Local Government Act a provision prohibiting "the intentional promotion of homosexuality" [sic] by any local authority and "the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". The provision was known as Section 28, and amended section 2A of the earlier Local Government Act of 1986. Changes in the structure of local government since that date led to some confusion over the precise circumstances in which the new law applied, including the question of whether or not it applied at all in state schools. Section 28 was finally repealed by the Labour government in November 2003. In June 2009, David Cameron then leader of the Conservative Party, formally apologised for his party introducing the law, stating that it was a mistake and had been offensive to gay people.
An equal age of consent
In February 1994 Parliament considered reform of the law on rape and other sexual offences during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Conservative MP Edwina Currie tabled an amendment to equalise the age of consent at 16. Many Labour MPs supported the amendment, including Tony Blair, who said:
Edwina Currie's amendment was defeated by 307 votes to 280. Those who voted for it included John Smith, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown and William Hague. Those voting against included David Blunkett and Ann Taylor. There were angry scenes outside the Palace of Westminster at the defeat of the amendment, when those involved in a demonstration organised by the group OutRage! clashed with police.
This vote was followed immediately by one on Sir Anthony Durant's amendment to lower the age of consent to 18. This amendment was passed by 427 votes to 162, and supporters included Michael Howard and John Major. It was opposed by such MPs as John Redwood, Michael Heseltine and John Gummer. An amendment tabled by Simon Hughes which was intended to equalise the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals at 17 was not voted upon. The Bill as a whole was given a second reading in the Lords by 290 votes to 247. Lord Longford then sought to reintroduce 21 as the minimum age in the Lords, but this was defeated by 176 votes to 113. An amendment by the deputy Labour leader in the House of Lords, Lord MacIntosh of Haringey, that would have equalised the age of consent at 16, was rejected by 245 votes to 71.
In its decision of 1 July 1997 in the case of Sutherland v. United Kingdom, the European Commission of Human Rights found that Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated by a discriminatory age of consent, on the ground that there was no objective and reasonable justification for maintaining a higher minimum age for male homosexual acts. On 13 October 1997 the Government submitted to the European Court of Human Rights that it would in the summer of 1998 propose a Bill to Parliament for a reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from 18 to 16.
On 22 June 1998, the Crime and Disorder Bill was put before Parliament. Ann Keen proposed amendments to lower the age of consent to 16. The House of Commons accepted these provisions with a majority of 207, but they were rejected by the House of Lords with a majority of 168. Subsequently, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill was introduced on 16 December 1998 and, again, the equalisation of the age of consent was endorsed on 25 January 1999 by the House of Commons, but was rejected on 14 April 1999 by the House of Lords.
Those campaigning against the amendment said they were simply acting to protect children. Baroness Young, the leader of the campaign against the amendment, said, "Homosexual practices carry great health risks to young people".
The Government reintroduced the Bill in 1999. With the prospect of it being passed by the Commons in two successive sessions of Parliament, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 were available to enact the Bill should the Lords have rejected it a third time. The Lords passed the Bill at Second Reading, but made an amendment during committee stage to maintain the age of consent for buggery at 18 for both sexes. As the Bill had not completed its passage through the Lords at the end of the Parliamentary session on 30 November 2000, the Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin certified that the procedure specified by the Parliament Acts had been complied with. The Bill received Royal Assent a few hours later, and was enacted as the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. The provisions of the Act came into force throughout the United Kingdom on 8 January 2001.
In the Adoption and Children Act 2002 Parliament provided that an application to adopt a child in England and Wales could be made by either a single person or a couple. The previous condition that the couple be married was dropped, thus allowing a same-sex couple to apply. The Lords rejected the proposal on one occasion before it was passed. Supporters of the move in Parliament stressed that adoption was not a "gay rights" issue but one of providing as many children as possible with a stable family environment rather than seeing them kept in care. Opponents raised doubts over the stability of relationships outside marriage, and how instability would impact on the welfare of adopted children. Similar legislation was adopted in Scotland which came into effect on 28 September 2009.
Section 28 (called Section 2A in Scotland) was repealed in Scotland within the first two years of the existence of the Scottish Parliament, by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. A move to remove the provision in England and Wales was prevented following opposition in the House of Lords, again led by the Baroness Young. Following her death in 2002 it was finally repealed in a new Local Government Act, which took effect on 18 November 2003. During the passage of the Bill no attempt was made to retain the section, and an amendment seeking to preserve it using ballots was defeated in the House of Lords. This showed that a significant shift had taken place in the consideration of LGBT issues.
Following the adoption of an EC Directive in 2000, Regulations were introduced on 1 December 2003 providing for the prohibition of discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation.
On 1 May 2004 the Sexual Offences Act 2003 entered into force. It swept away all of the previous sex-specific legislation, including the 1967 Act, and introduced instead neutral offences. Thus the previous conditions relating to privacy were removed, and sexual acts were viewed by the law without regard to the sex of the participants.
Parliament then went on to legislate for civil partnerships for same-sex couples on 18 November 2004 with the passage of the Civil Partnership Act. Such partnerships were civil unions, granting to the parties the same rights as a marriage. The first civil partnership ceremony took place at 11:00 (GMT) on 5 December 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp at St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing, West Sussex. The usual 14 day waiting period was waived as Roche was suffering from a terminal illness. He died the next day. The first civil partnership ceremonies after the statutory waiting period then took place in Northern Ireland on 19 December, with ceremonies following the next day in Scotland and the day after that in England and Wales.
On 30 April 2007 the Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force, following the introduction of similar provisions in Northern Ireland in 2006. They provided a general prohibition of discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. Similar legislation had long previously been in force in respect of discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability and marital status. The introduction of the Regulations was controversial and a dispute arose between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales over exemptions for Catholic adoption agencies. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham declared his opposition to the act, saying that the legislation contradicted the Catholic Church's "moral values". He supported efforts to have Catholic adoption agencies exempted from sexual orientation regulations, which were ultimately successful in a judgement given on 17 March 2010.
In October 2007 the Government announced that it would seek to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to create a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. This followed the creation of an offence on religious hatred that had proved controversial in 2006 (see Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006). Incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation is already illegal in Northern Ireland.
On 8 April 2010, the Equality Act became law. The primary purpose of the Act was to codify the complicated and numerous array of Acts and Regulations, which formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in the United Kingdom including the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three major statutory instruments protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. This legislation has the same goals as the US Civil Rights Act 1964 and four major EU Equal Treatment Directives, whose provisions it mirrors and implements. It requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, belief and age. The Bill introduced legislation to allow LGBT people to hold civil partnership ceremonies in England and Wales on religious premises. It also extended trans rights, banning discrimination by schools on the grounds of gender reassignment
Other initiatives have included:
- The establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights on 1 October 2007; the Commission is tasked with working for equality in all areas and replaced the previous commissions dedicated to sex, race and disability alone.
- The setting up of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Advisory Group within the Department of Health.
- A provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that a court must treat hostility based on sexual orientation as an aggravating feature for sentence.
- Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service on dealing with homophobic crime.
- A commitment from the Government to work for LGBT rights at an international level.
An illustration of social attitudes towards homosexuality in the United Kingdom was provided in May 2007 in a survey by YouGov. The poll indicated that legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was supported by 90% of UK citizens. It also showed positive public perceptions of gay people in particular, but recognised the extent to which prejudice still exists. A poll in June 2009 conducted by Populus for The Times reported that the majority of the public supports same-sex marriage; 61% of respondents agreed that "Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships".
On 30 July 2009 the Religious Society of Friends in the UK stated its intent to ask the government to allow it to perform same sex marriages.
Parentage and parental orders
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 c.22 was given Royal Assent on 13 November 2008, The legislation allows for lesbians and their partners (both civil and de facto) equal access to legal presumptions of parentage in cases of in vitro fertilisation ("IVF") or assisted/self insemination (other than at home) from the moment the child is born. The law also allows both partners to be identified on the child's birth certificate by the words "parent".  The law came into force from 6 April 2009 and is not retroactive (it does not apply before that date). Parental orders for gay men and their partners will apply from 6 April 2010 for surrogacy arrangements. Three schedules will commence as follows:
- Schedule 1 commences from 6 April 2009.
- Schedule 2 commences from 26 October 2009.
- Schedule 3 commences from 6 April 2010.
This positive change means that, for the first time, female couples who have a child using fertility treatment have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts to be shown as parents in the birth registration. It is vital that we afford equality wherever we can in society, especially as family circumstances continue to change. This is an important step forward in that process.Iain Duncan Smith, who led efforts to oppose the change, said that "The absence of fathers generally has a detrimental effect on the child."
Controversy over conversion therapy
Peel, Clarke and Drescher wrote in 2007 that only one organisation in the UK could be identified with conversion therapy, a religious organisation called The Freedom Trust (part of Exodus International): "whereas a number of organisations in the US (both religious and scientific/psychological) promote conversion therapy, there is only one in the UK of which we are aware". The paper reported that practitioners who did provide these sorts of treatments between the 1950s and 1970s now view homosexuality as healthy, and the evidence suggests that 'conversion therapy' is a historical rather than a contemporary phenomenon in the UK, where treatment for homosexuality has always been less common than in the USA.
In 2007, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the main professional organization of psychiatrists in the United Kingdom, issued a report stating that: "Evidence shows that LGB people are open to seeking help for mental health problems. However, they may be misunderstood by therapists who regard their homosexuality as the root cause of any presenting problem such as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, therapists who behave in this way are likely to cause considerable distress. A small minority of therapists will even go so far as to attempt to change their client's sexual orientation. This can be deeply damaging. Although there are now a number of therapists and organisation in the USA and in the UK that claim that therapy can help homosexuals to become heterosexual, there is no evidence that such change is possible."
In 2008, the Royal College of Psychiatrists stated: "The Royal College shares the concern of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that positions espoused by bodies like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in the United States are not supported by science. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore so-called treatments of homosexuality as recommended by NARTH create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
In 2009, a research survey into mental health practitioners in the UK concluded "A significant minority of mental health professionals are attempting to help lesbian, gay and bisexual clients to become heterosexual. Given lack of evidence for the efficacy of such treatments, this is likely to be unwise or even harmful." Scientific American reported on this: "One in 25 British psychiatrists and psychologists say they would be willing to help homosexual and bisexual patients try to convert to heterosexuality, even though there is no compelling scientific evidence a person can willfully become straight", and explained that 17% of those surveyed said they had tried to help reduce or suppress homosexual feelings, and 4% said they would try to help homosexual people convert to heterosexuality in the future.
- Gay Rights Working Party—1980s work in London to combat discrimination and police abuse
- "Lesbians lose legal marriage bid", BBC News online, BBC, 31 July 2006. Retrieved on 23 May 2010.
- Whiteman, Hilary. "Petition seeks apology for Enigma code-breaker Turing - CNN.com", Edition.cnn.com, 2009-09-01. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Treatment of Alan Turing was "appalling" – PM. Number10.gov.uk (2009-09-10). Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- The Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (No. 1536 (N.I. 19)). The UK Statute Law Database. Office of Public Sector Information (27 October 1982). Retrieved on 2 January 2010.
- Bosche, Susanne. "Jenny, Eric, Martin . . . and me", London: Guardian, 31 January 2000. Retrieved on 10 October 2007.
- David Cameron apologises for Section 28. The Independent (2009-07-02). Retrieved on 2010-06-02.
- Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. The UK Statute Law Database. Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved on 27 March 2010.
- Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, 2007 asp 4, s. 29. Opsi.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Thomas, Ellen. "New legislation sees gay Scottish couples win right to adopt children", The Herald, 20 September 2009. Retrieved on 23 September 2009.
- 2000 asp 7, s. 34. Opsi.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, S.I. 2003/1661. Opsi.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- "First civil union in the United Kingdom", BBC News, 2005-12-06. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- "Partner of first civil union in the United Kingdom dies", BBC News, 2005-12-06. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Smith, Peter. "Note from Archbishop Peter Smith regarding Catholic adoption agencies and the current controversy", Catholic Church of England and Wales, 5 February 2007. Retrieved on 1 October 2009.
- Leeds-based Catholic charity wins gay adoption ruling bbc.co.uk, March 17th, 2010
- Grew, Tony. "Government approves incitement to gay hate law", Pink News, 8 October 2007. Retrieved on 10 October 2007.
- Equality Act 2010. Equalities.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-06-02.
- see EU Directive 2000/78/EC, 2000/43/EC, 2006/54/EC
- EHRC - Commission welcomes landmark equality legislation. Equalityhumanrights.com (2010-04-08). Retrieved on 2010-06-02.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity - Policy and guidance. Department of Health. Archived from the original on 2007-04-02. Retrieved on 1 October 2009.
- Criminal Justice Act 2003, 2003 c. 44, s. 146. Opsi.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Crown Prosecution Service: Policy Statement. Cps.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2010-05-02.
- Promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights overseas. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Archived from the original on 2008-03-19. Retrieved on 1 October 2009.
- Muir, Hugh. "Majority support gay equality rights, poll finds", London: Guardian, 23 May 2007. Retrieved on 10 October 2007.
- Bennett, Rosemary. "Church 'out of touch' as public supports equal rights for homosexuals", London: The Times, 27 June 2009. Retrieved on 2 October 2009.
- Gay Britain Survey. Populus. Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
- "Quakers 'to allow gay marriages'", BBC News, 30 July 2009. Retrieved on 31 July 2009.
- "Analysis: What the new IVF parenthood laws mean for lesbians", Pink News, 2 March 2009. Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
- "Lesbian couples undergoing IVF now permitted to put both names on birth certificates", Pink News, 6 April 2009. Retrieved on 27 July 2009.
- "'Brilliant' news for lesbian couples", BBC, 30 August 2009. Retrieved on 31 August 2009.
- Tran, Mark. "Lesbian partners to be named on birth certificates", London: Guardian, 31 August 2009. Retrieved on 31 August 2009.
- Beckford, Martin. "Children can now have two lesbian mothers and no father on birth certificate", London: Daily Telegraph, 31 August 2009. Retrieved on 31 August 2009.
- "Lesbians given equal birth rights", BBC News, 31 August 2009. Retrieved on 2 September 2009.
- Beckford, Martin. "Children can now have two lesbian mothers and no father on birth certificate." The Telegraph. 31 August 2009. Retrieved on 2 September 2009.
- This is presumably a reference to True Freedom Trust which appears to have dissociated itself from Exodus and conversion therapy in 2000.
- Peel 2007, pp. 18–19
- Thinking Anglicans (13 September 2008).
- Statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Mental Health Special Interest Group (13 September 2008).
- Bartlett, Smith & King 2009
- Ballantyne 2009
- Sutherland v. United Kingdom – 25186/94  ECHR 234 (27 March 2001)
- LGBT History Month United Kingdom website
- GLBTQ website article on the history of LGBT life in the United Kingdom from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century.
- GLBTQ website article on the history of LGBT life in the United Kingdom from 1900 to the present.
- Comprehensive UK and International LGBT news website
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