1996 June

Labour ditches gay rights

In June OutRage! met with the Labour Shadow Home Office Minister, Doug Henderson MP. He was refreshingly honest and straightfoward, giving us a full and frank briefing on Labour’s non-commitment to homosexual human rights.

Reversing previous pledges to remove homophobic discrimination, Henderson confirmed that Labour was no longer committed to any changes in the law. Friendly but firm, he acknowledged: “There are a lot of Labour MPs who don’t want anything to do with your kind of agenda.”

On anti-discrimination legislation (which was a Labour Manifesto promise at the previous election), Henderson dismissed proposals for the protection of gay employees against victimisation as a “non-runner”. He refused to believe that anyone could be sacked because of their homosexuality, despite evidence from a 1993 Stonewall survey which showed that eight percent of those questioned had been dismissed for being gay.

Regarding the equalisation of the age of consent and the repeal of Section 28, Henderson was noncommittal. Likewise, with respect to the removal of the antigay bias in sexual offences legislation. Our proposal for the abolition of the consensuaI gay offences of cruising, cottaging and indecency (which still result in 500 convictions a year) was met with the smiling evasion: “You do realise that this isn’t a very attractive agenda, don’t you?”

The possibility of legal protection for lesbians and gay men through constitutional reform was also rejected by Henderson. He confirmed that the European Convention on Human Rights would be incorporated into UK law, without any amendments. The anti- discrimination clause of the ECHR (Article 14) excludes any specific commitment to non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. As a result, equality claims bought by gays have been rejected in the past by the ECHR with respect to discrimination in the age of consent, housing, immigration and the armed forces. Without amendment, the ECHR’s incoporation into UK law will do nothing to ensure gay equality.

The only glimmer of hope that Henderson offered was the non- biassed interpretation of immigration and asylum rules (but no change in the law). Cases would, he said, be assessed on individual merit, without regard to sexuality. Refugee status could be granted to homosexuals fleeing persecution in their home countries, and the foreign partners of British lesbians and gay men could be given residence rights (on the production of evidence of a committed relationship).

Aside from these two pledges, Labour has no plans to overturn antigay discrimination. The only saving grace is that Labour is now being brutally honest about its de facto support for homosexual inequality.