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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 00:26 GMT 01:26 UK

UK Politics

Gay sex age cut welcomed

MPs packed into the House for the free vote

Gay rights campaigners are celebrating after MPs reduced the homosexual age of consent to 16.

A free vote on the amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, which cuts the age of consent from 18, was backed by 336 MPs, and opposed by 129, a majority of 207.

BBC News' Max Cotton on the celebrations following the vote
In an unprecedented show of emotion when the vote was announced, MPs defied parliamentary convention and broke into applause in the chamber.

Their applause was echoed outside the House where campaigners had gathered. One man said: "We hope that now MPs will move forward, having established the principle of equality, to get rid of all other homophobic laws."

"We can't stop here, we can't get complacent," said a woman. "We've got section 28, a ban on gay marriage, problems with adoption and fostering, we've got to work hard, but this is very, very good news."

Peter Tatchell, from the gay campaigning group Outrage!, claimed the vote was the first step in an ongoing process. "This decision is an historic milestone in the struggle for lesbian and gay human rights."

Ann Keen "The injustice must stop..."
The clause was proposed by Ann Keen (Lab. Brentford and Isleworth) whose son "came out" as a homosexual four years ago. Mrs Keen said Britain was a long way behind the times in continuing to discriminate between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

[ image: Ann Keen was compelled to pursue this matter when her son
Ann Keen was compelled to pursue this matter when her son "came out"
Opening the debate on the clause she said it was ludicrous that heterosexual and lesbian teenagers should legally be allowed to have sex at 16, but that young gay men were not.

"As it stands, the law does not protect young gay men against exploitation. It creates fear and secrecy, not openness and support.

"The higher age of consent for young gay men adds to their worries. The threat of criminal prosecution serves only to add to their sense of isolation and loneliness. How dare we rob young men of their teenage years, denying them years they should use to prepare for adulthood?" she said.

The BBC's John Kampfner reports on the vote
Minutes after the vote was announced MPs narrowly rejected a move to make it illegal for people to have sex with those under 18 in their care. The amendment, proposed by Joe Ashton (Lab. Bassetlaw), was intended to stop those with "influence and authority" over young people taking advantage of those between the ages of 16 and 18.

He said the protection of children should be MPs' most urgent consideration, but there would nothing wrong if a teacher and a younger partner were at different schools.

Home Office Minister Alun Michael said the government could not back the amendment on the basis that it was badly drafted and would prevent, for example, a 16 year old girl from having sex with a 24-year-old teacher she had married.

However he did promise that a working party would look urgently at the protection of young people in institutional care.

Strong opposition to lowering the age of consent came from many Tory MPs. Sir Patrick Cormack caused outrage in the Commons when he claimed a campaign for gay sex to be legalised at 16 could actually seek to "promote homosexuality."

Sir Patrick, a devout Christian, said homosexuals were "not only different" from heterosexuals but should not be regarded "as equal or equivalent."

He caused further anger and shouts from Labour backbenchers of "disgraceful", when he said: "Would anybody seriously suggest that every sailor who followed this way of life was actually born a homosexual? No."

[ image: Sir Norma Fowler: opposed the amendment]
Sir Norma Fowler: opposed the amendment
Shadow Home Secretary Sir Norman Fowler also opposed the change: "The crucial argument is surely that if we take this action then a group of young people between the age of 16 and 18 are put at risk. It may be an inconvenient argument ... but the protection of young people must be of proper and paramount concern," he said.

The BBC's Max Cotton reports from outside the House of Commons
Stephen Twigg, the gay Labour MP for Enfield South, declared: "It was a three-to-one majority, which is excellent. I was very pleased about that."

On the question of whether peers would challenge the amendment in the Lords, he said: "I think it will be close in the Lords, but I think they would be crazy to try to overturn it."

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22 Jun 98 | UK
Bringing consenting adults into line

22 Jun 98 | UK
New offence to ban teacher-pupil relationships

21 Jun 98 | UK Politics
Church opposes lowering age of consent

09 Jun 98 | UK Politics
I'm gay, says MP

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