Lords oppose equality again

The evil Baroness Young of Farnworth was successful in getting the House of Lords to kill the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which would have equalised the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual activity.

At the end of a debate which started at tea-time on Tuesday, 13th April, peers divided at 11:55, voting on Lady Young’s amendment to postpone the Second Reading by six months. The result, announced at ten minutes after midnight, was 222 “Content”, and 146 “Not content”.

MP’s had voted for equality in January by 313 to 130: but the defeat in the House of Lords was expected, given their vote of 289 to 122 against equality on 22-July-1998. — Statisticians may find some small comfort in the fact that the current defeat of equal treatment is by a reduced majority: by 76 this year, (a ratio of 3:2 or 60%), but by 167 last year, (a ratio of 5:2 or 70%).

Baron Alli of Norbury, 34, who took his seat on 21-July-1998, (the day before last year’s vote), told how he was still young enough to remember being gay at the age of 16, in a speech that was described later in the debate by a peeress as an “extremely moving personal testament”. He related how he had to cope with terms of abuse: some of which had been used earlier in the debate by other “noble Lords”. During Lord Alli’s speech, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was two rows in front with six other robed bishops, turned through 180° to watch him, and then turned back with a pronounced expression of distaste.

Lord Alli quoted from Pastor Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Several speakers referred to a risible proposal to allow anal sex (for both sexes) only from 18, whilst permitting other forms of gay sex at 16. Others complained that Stonewall’s advertisement in “The Times”, which listed organisations in favour of equality, (the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barnado’s, NCH Action for Children, the BMA, Royal College of Nursing, Family Welfare Association, Naitonal Union of Teachers, and the House of Commons), had been placed without seeking permission from the bodies to publish their names; and queried whether the decision had been made by select committees, or by a vote of the entire membership.

An amusing contribution from Lord Rowallan, during which he admitted to having been a hippy in the 1960’s, earned him the epithet of “Lord Rowallan of San Francisco”. Apparently looking at Dr. Carey, he explained how, when young, “some of us played ‘Doctors and Nurses’, some of us played ‘Vicars and Tarts'”.

An estimated 200 protesters, some from as far as Leeds and Sheffield, braved the unseasonable hail, sleet, and biting wind to protest for a couple of hours outside Parliament. Some returned after the result was announced.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, together with the bishops of Manchester, Norwich, Southwell, and Winchester voted to continue discrimination. The bishops of Bath & Wells, Birmingham and Oxford voted for equality.

Note that the Labour Baroness Young of Old Scone supports equality, and has stated that the current legal position puts the U.K. in violation of the Human Rights Convention.

Bigotry versus brave words

BRIAN SEWELL, Evening Standard, 20-April-1999

LAST Tuesday, the House of Lords again debated lowering the age of consent for homosexuals to 16 and Channel 4 concurrently broadcast the final episode of Queer as Folk. The victorious party of the one damned the whole business of homosexuality as sick, abnormal, unnatural, unclean, inferior and a perversion repeatedly damned in holy scripture of which the inevitable consequence is the breakdown of marriage and mortal danger to society, the other confirming all these Victorian prejudices by having a boy of 15 as a central character and ending in a Götterdämmerung display of manic immaturity. The Lords presented themselves largely as old fogeys embodying the morality of Britain, convinced that family life is the only building brick of our society, its core unit and its feste Burg, while all the young faggots of Manchester, where Queer as Folk is set, are defiantly hell-bent on random buggery — and never the twain shall meet.

Their Lordships’ debate was driven with tremendous energy by Baroness Young, Conservative Life Peeress of 28 years’ standing, there for the usual record of devotion to her party and such service to the public as appointments to the boards of Marks and Sparks and the National Westminster Bank — her peerage a prize example of political patronage far more irksome than the accident of birth and a powerful argument against an appointed House. She stirred the old boys, appointed and hereditary, into a ferment of incoherence, ignorance and intolerance not heard since the debate on the Wolfenden Report more than 40 years ago — indeed, in many ways it was a rerun of that debate, the voices of reason and experience drowned by the babble of outraged bigotry. The survival of antique notions among Lady Young’s supporters was astonishing — homosexuality is a matter of wilful choice, homosexuality is an adolescent phase out of which young men will grow, homosexuals mature slowly and must be given extra time to find themselves — women are women at 16 and heterosexual boys are men, but faggoty boys are only boys — and all boys of 16 will, without a moment’s hesitation or misgiving, bend over for the predatory older man; it is a wonder that we did not hear the old saws that homosexuality can be cured by the love of a good woman, cold baths, devoted attendance at any church or chapel, chastity and abstinence from curry, and that their Lordships did not trot out the old threats of blindness, debility and early death that were once the deterrents to masturbation, or recommend putting homosexuals in the stocks and pillory.

The problem is that they are indeed in the stocks and pillory, put there by themselves for all to see by such look-at-me comedians as Kenneth Williams and Julian Clary, who perpetuate the stereotypes of camp affectation and phallic obsessions inviting mockery, much as did Yiddish comedians long ago seeking to blunt the hostility of anti-Semites. We have heard much of institutionalised racism in recent weeks, but the prejudice against homosexuals is infinitely more established in thought, humour, daily life and language –queer, faggot, bumboy, shirt-lifter, fairy, pansy, poof and poofter– and is still the reason for refusing employment, delaying advancement and turning public sympathy away from a victim. Lord Tope opined that in many ways it is better for a boy to be black than gay, if for no other reason than that he will not have to confess it to his family and friends.

THE word buggery tripped often from the tongues of the most unlikely Lords and Ladies, clearly an obsession, but the age of consent was the true topic of their debate, a simple measure recognising the BMA’s pronouncement that all adolescents at the age of 16 know the nature of their sexuality and giving them the right – not the encouragement – to practise it, homosexual as well as heterosexual. No heterosexual boy of 16 is turned into a faggot by an occasional foray into homosexual activity engendered by curiosity or hunger — the tales of boys’ schools as training grounds for it are arrant nonsense. Most boys at my old school frequently engaged in forms of mutual activity for which opportunities were legion — even in the chemistry lecture theatre, risking the spiteful eye of Mr. Payne — some bullies taking advantage of the few who were more or less open about their sexuality; that this bred generations of inveterate buggers who could not marry for the taste is inconceivable, for most of them married boring wives and entered upon lives of tedious respectability as precisely the family units Lady Young commends.

Lady Young and her antique cohorts clung grimly to their prejudices, Julian Clary, the predatory ogre and sad old men in grubby raincoats, their terrible images of sexual decadence, God, the British Empire and the whole of Islam on their side (clearly none had been to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt or as far afield as Pakistan and been importuned by boys).

They had remarkable opponents, but ignored their wisdom.

  • Lord Williams of Mostyn observed that shuddering with irrational distaste is no basis for sound law.
  • Earl Russell remarked that, had the law in his youth prohibited heterosexual behaviour, no effort of imagination could have changed his orientation.
  • Lord Quinton reminded the House of the Wolfenden principle that homosexual activity is not a crime but, like red hair, a statistical abnormality.
  • Viscount Bledisloe made Lady Young ridiculous by asking, since she is so alarmed by the spectre of the elderly seducer, just what might be her permissible upper age for a boy’s older sexual partner;
    he and Baroness Malalieu reminded the House that tolerance of minorities is meaningless if applied only to those with whom we agree.
  • Baroness Miller, noticing the pious subtext of Lady Young and her supporters that people must be protected from themselves, observed that this has too often been the excuse for denying individuals’ rights.
  • Lord Freyberg pleaded for equality before the law and told the House that it could not “change sexual orientation simply by making it harder to embrace … homosexuals are a much put-upon group.”
  • Lord Alli began: “… I am openly gay. I am 34. I was gay when I was 24, when I was 21, when I was … 18, even when I was 16. I have never been confused about my sexuality.” He ended with: “I should like your Lordships to speak out for me and millions like me, not because you agree or disagree, approve or disapprove, but because if you do not protect me in this House, you protect no one.”

The bravest speech of all was made by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, combating those who claimed the Bible as justification for their prejudice, pleading the cause of those who, by nature or nurture, are homosexual, “… struggling with prejudice, ignorance and fear … mental and physical aggression … it is the teaching of the Bible that they should be protected … this is part of the Gospel … by which I have to stand.”