OutRage! agenda for gay law reform

Letter to Tony Blair on assuming office

The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
Prime Minister,
10, Downing Street,
London SW1

Dear Mr. Blair,

Greetings, and congratulations on Labour’s election victory and on your appointment as Prime Minister.

While we appreciate that you have many important social problems to deal with, we hope your government will take swift action to ensure homosexual equality.

We have drafted a six-point programme for lesbian and gay law reform, which sets out our priorities. As you will see, many of our proposals, such as the Unmarried Partners Act, would also benefit heterosexuals. We ask Labour to legislate for:

The repeal of all victimless, gay-only offences for which there is no heterosexual equivalent, such as gross indecency, procuring, soliciting, and the ‘no more than two men’ rule.

An Unmarried Partners Act, giving rights to all unwed couples, both gay and straight.

Equalisation of the age of consent at 14 for both heterosexual and homosexual relations, to reduce the criminalisation of young people involved in consenting sex, and to remove the legal obstacles to earlier, more explicit and effective sex education in schools.

An Equal Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and incitement to hatred on any grounds, including sexual orientation.

The replacement of Section 28 with new legislation, requiring schools to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools, to promote pupils’ understanding and acceptance of gay people, and to ensure that AIDS awareness lessons encompass information about safer sex for lesbians and gay men.

An end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, as part of a package of democratic reforms to enhance the civil rights of all service personnel.

The enactment of these reforms would win you the admiration and affection of the lesbian and gay community, and ensure your recognition as one of the great reforming Prime Ministers of this country.

Yours sincerely

Alastair Williams

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.