OutRage! has condemned the Government’s proposals for new legislation in the autumn on the age of consent as “vague, minimalist, insulting and manipulative”.
It is accusing Labour of “actively undermining attempts to broaden the scope of law reform beyond the age of consent, and of blatantly refusing to negotiate with gay rights organisations and MPs who do not toe the Government line”.
“The exclusion of Dr. Evan Harris, MP from discussions on the new age of consent legislation is a clear example of the way the Government is manipulating the gay rights agenda”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“We deplore the Home Secretary’s refusal to announce a moratorium on the prosecution of 16 and 17 year old gay men and their partners. This means that thousands of young gay men will remain at risk of arrest until the new Bill is passed, which will probably take another two years.
“Jack Straw has the power to advise Chief Constables and the Crown Prosecution Service to either halt prosecutions or refer them to higher authorities before proceeding. In his House of Commons statement on 28th July, the Home Secretary disgracefully rejected both options, insisting that prosecutions must and will continue because it is ‘the law of the land’ and ‘there is no question of the law, or prosecuting policy, being changed in advance of any change in legislation’, (see Hansard, 28th July, col.s 182 and 209)”.
“Despite the two-thirds vote by MPs in favour of equality, the Government is still insisting that it will not officially support an equal age of consent. Jack Straw confirmed this when he told the House of Commons on 28th July: ‘The Government are neutral on the matter’, (Hansard, 28th July, col. 183).
“The Government is yet again insisting on a free vote, where Labour MPs will be at liberty to support discrimination. Labour never has a free vote on issues of equality affecting women and black people. Why is it downgrading the human rights of young gay men to the whims and fancies of individual MPs?
“Jack Straw has declined to say what Bill will be used as a vehicle for the equalisation of the age of consent. He has not ruled out the possibility that equalisation might be included in the forthcoming legislation on sex offenders and abuse of a position of trust. Straw said: ‘it remains to be seen … We cannot anticipate the most appropriate vehicle’, (Hansard, 28th July, col. 208). This means that age of consent equalisation could be included with legislation cracking down on the sexual exploitation of minors, which would confuse two entirely separate issues: equality and abuse.
“The most effective way of protecting young people –gay and straight– against sexual abuse is by educating and empowering them with the knowledge, confidence and skills to resist unwanted sexual advances. But the Government is, so far, unwilling to include new initiatives for earlier, more effective sex education in its proposed age of consent legislation. This is a serious omission, which fails young people of all sexualities.
“Contrary to claims made in a Stonewall press release dated 27th July, the Home Secretary has not said that ‘any measures relating to sexual offences will, from now on, apply equally to both boys and girls and men and women and will be absolutely non-discriminatory’, (Stonewall, 27th July). What Jack Straw actually said was that the new measures on abuse of a position of trust would apply in a non-discriminatory manner to both gay and straight abuse. The Government has, shamefully, declined to give any undertaking that it is committed to remove discrimination against gay men in sexual offences law.
“The Government’s proposed autumn legislation is the barest minimum possible. The lesbian and gay rights movement should, instead of capitulating to the Government, demand that the equalisation of the age of consent is part of a broader package of long overdue gay law reform. The way the Home Secretary is currently dictating the gay civil rights agenda is totally unacceptable. Rather than meekly surrendering to Government demands, we should be insiting on the repeal of all discriminatory, gay-only sexual offences, including the laws against buggery, gross indecency, procuring and soliciting.
“Attempts by Dr. Evan Harris to propose the abolition of other discriminatory, antigay laws have resulted in him being excluded from all negotiations with the Government and Stonewall, even though he was one of the original signatories of the amendment to equalise the age of consent. This deliberate attempt to block moves for further gay law reform shows the extent to which the Government is now manipulating the gay rights agenda and excluding all alternative voices and proposals”, said Peter Tatchell.