1997 June

Labour vetoes Equality

Government defends discrimination in sexual offences law

OutRage! has warned that the newly-agreed equal age of consent will not apply to Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, and that Tony Blair is unwilling to press the local parliaments to equalise their ages of consent at 16, to bring them into line with the rest of the UK.

OutRage! is also warning that despite the equalisation of the age of consent, men of 20 or over convicted of consensual “buggery” and “gross indecency” with 16- and 17-year-olds in situations where more than two persons are present or where the sex takes place in parks, backrooms, toilets and other “public” places will still be branded as pædophiles and forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.

OutRage! has condemned the Labour government for opposing equality amendments by Dr. Evan Harris MP. His amendments sought to lift the ban on gay sex involving more than two men, and to remove from the Sex Offenders’ (pædophile) Register men convicted of consenting gay sex with youths aged 16 and 17.

Seven gay and bisexual men in Bolton were convicted in January this year under Section 1 of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which prohibits gay sex where more than two persons are present. Two of the Bolton 7, aged 33 and 55, were also forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Reigster after they were convicted of consenting sex with a youth aged 17 and a half.

It was to remedy these injustices that two amendments to the Crime and Disorder Bill were tabled by Dr. Evan Harris MP, with OutRage! support. Dr. Harris withdrew his amendments only after the Government indicated it would vote them down.

Dr. Harris was also pressured by other lesbian and gay rights organisations –not OutRage!– to withdraw his amendments. They argued that his attempts at further law reform would alienate the government and cause Labour to vote against equality. A defeat, these organisations claimed, would detract from the age of consent victory.

“Winning an equal age of consent is an important advance”, said Huw Williams of OutRage!. “But it is scandalous that it has taken 31 years. Many other homophobic laws remain unchanged. We won’t be satisfied until all discrimination is abolished. Eguality at 16 has got to be the first step in an on-going programme of lesbian and gay law reform”, said Williams.