UK: Gay campaigners celebrate legal milestone... [The Guardian]
- Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Gay campa...
Friday, December 01, 2000
Gay campaigners celebrate legal milestone
Government uses Parliament Act to push through sex at 16 legislation despite
Friday December 1, 2000
Gay 16-year-olds will be able to have sex without fear of prosecution for
the first time after controversial plans to lower the homosexual age of
consent from 18 to 16 were finally pushed through Parliament yesterday.
Despite a last-ditch attack by religious leaders, family values campaigners
and Tory MPs, the government used the rarely-invoked Parliament Act to put
the sexual offences (amendment) bill on to the statute books after it was
consistently rejected by the Lords.
The move - which will see the measures become law after being given royal
assent before December 6 - was acclaimed by gay rights groups celebrating
the 100th anniversary of the death of Oscar Wilde as "a great step towards
"When the history books come to be written, I believe it will be seen as the
moment when this country finally began to change, when lesbians and gay men
started to take our place as equal members of society," said Angela Mason,
executive director of Stonewall.
"This is a welcome and historic milestone in the long struggle for gay human
rights," said OutRage!'s Peter Tatchell. "My only regret is that it has
taken 33 years, during which time hundreds of gay men have been unjustly
jailed for victimless relationships."
Yesterday's decision to invoke the Parliament Act - only used twice in the
last 10 years - means that men and women will legally be able to have anal
sex at 16. Before, buggery between 16 and 18, even if consensual, could
invoke a five-year prison sentence.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act also creates a new offence of "abuse of
trust", ensuring teachers and workers in children's homes, hospitals and
care homes can be jailed for up to five years if they sexually abuse a child
in their care, although critics have argued too few adults in positions of
trust are covered.
The reduction of the age of consent - while voted through with three massive
majorities in the Commons - provoked fierce opposition on moral and health
grounds, with religious leaders yesterday writing a protest letter to the
Daily Telegraph, and peers twice throwing it out of the Lords.
Yesterday the family values campaigner Lady Young, who has spearheaded the
opposition, accused the government of treating Parliament in "a completely
dictatorial manner" by ignoring the views of peers and denying MPs the
chance to debate an amendment approved by peers to keep the law for anal sex
for both men and women at 18 but lower the age for other sexual practices to
16. She added that it was "constitutionally quite wrong" to invoke the
Parliament Act for a bill which had not completed all its stages in both
houses, and which was not a central piece of government legislation but "a
matter of conscience".
A spokesman for the staunchly Catholic Commons Speaker Michael Martin - who,
as the servant of the house, has no discretion over whether to invoke the
act - insisted: "Everything that has happened was absolutely in order."
The Parliament Act allows the government to present a bill for royal assent
if it has been rejected in the Lords in one parliamentary session and has
not been approved by peers by the end of the second session.
The decision to force through the act came as MPs ended their longest
parliamentary session since the 1930s. Sessions typically end in mid to late
November, with the Queen's speech on November 24 last year.
The reason for the late date of December 6 is the number of bills held up by
defeats in the Lords.
Left on the shelf
Bills not in the Queen's speech:
A consumers bill intended to outlaw the sale of insurance products linked
A bill regulating mercenaries is likely to be offered only in the form of
a green paper.
A home office bill designed to crack down on psychopaths and paedophiles
has also been shelved.
The department of trade may publish in draft form a bill licencing the
arms export industry.
The Treasury is also not likely to go ahead with a bill cracking down on
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000
Kindly appreciate that Brenda Lana Smith R.af D. had no editorial input
whatsoever in the above...