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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 11/98: Queen Speech  
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Queen Speech Tuesday, 24 November, 1998, 19:26 GMT
Cautious welcome for gay sex at 16
Peers
Peers blocked a similar measure last summer
A law to protect young people from abuse by those in positions of trust is to accompany a free vote to lower the age of consent for gay sex to 16.

The Queen's Speech
A new criminal offence - to apply to groups including teachers and care workers - is part of the government's bid to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex from 18 after a similar bill was thrown out by the Lords last summer.

Ministers hope peers can be persuaded to accept the new Age of Consent and Abuse of Trust Bill by adding the new offence designed to protect youths aged 16 and 17 from sexual advances by influential elders.

Peter Tachell
Peter Tatchell: "Grave concern" at propsect of opposistion from the Lords
Gay campaigners broadly welcomed the measures but expressed "grave concerns" about the lingering prospect of opposition from the Lords and state interference in "private and consenting" relationships.

Peter Tatchell, of radical gay rights group OutRage!, said: "We have grave concerns that the peers will continue to try to water down and block this Bill even though it has overwhelming support and agreement."

He added that the new criminal measures were a welcome move to protect young people, but "there should be no attempt to criminalise consenting sexual behaviour to which both parties have freely agreed".

Campaigning group Stonewall, which pointed out that the bill must be passed to fulfil a government commitment under European law, was also worried about the anti-abuse law, saying it must apply to both sexes.

The second largest teaching union, the NASUWT, has already called the measures "repressive".

But morality campaigners are strongly against the plans, saying equalisation of the age of consent could result in young people being "pushed" into gay sex before their sexual orientation was settled.

John Campion, deputy director of family-values group Family and Youth Concern, said: "This is sending a signal that homosexuality is equivalent to heterosexuality, which we strongly maintain it isn't.

"It amounts to hypocrisy by the government when it claims to be backing the family."

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