Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT
Gays' mums lobby peers
MPs have already backed equality
One of the leading opponents to reducing the homosexual age of consent to 16 is maintaining her opposition to equality despite holding a meeting with a delegation of gay men's' mums.
Tory peer Baroness Young said could not change her mind as she has received hundreds of letters from worried parents who fear their sons will become vulnerable to the attentions of older males if the age of consent is lowered.
Referring to the legislation currently passing through Parliament she said: "This Bill sends the wrong signal, undermining good parents and putting young people at risk."
Lady Young met a delegation of women from across the UK who hoped to convince her to drop plans to block the Bill once it reaches the Lords some time in the next few months.
In January MPs overwhelmingly backed proposals to reduce the gay age of consent from 18 to 16 by 313 votes to 130.
Cath Hall, who has a gay son, said after the meeting that Lady Young was, "genuinely interested in everything we had to say but really at the end of the day her views are fairly fixed".
She told BBC News Online that the Tory peer acknowledged that often, "she is the odd one out these days," and that, "if her daughters had been lesbian she wouldn't stop loving them but she would still feel that it was wrong".
"We are hoping to get through to her on a personal level because we are mothers and some of us are grandmothers, like she is, and we understand her.
"But we are afraid she is getting it wrong."
Mrs Oakes said that is was essential to change the law.
"Young people can feel quite depressed when they think the whole of their society is against them and when that is backed up by legislation it's cruel and unfair.
"They can be labelled as criminals for doing something their straight brothers and sisters can legally do."
She also added that 16 was not too early, as some opponents of reform fear, for a young person to be sure of their sexuality.
She said: "All the people I have spoken to, and it has been 15 years since I found out my son was gay, have said they knew from a very early age. My son knew from 11, and some people have known from nine and 10.
"They are not confused about it. The confusion is in the hostility they may meet and the homophobia and possibly even their rejection by their parents. All this bullying and homophobia is [at present] backed up by a government and it shouldn't be."
Last time Lady Young blocked similar proposals she was supported by peers from all parties, including former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Lord Callaghan.
But she was unwilling to speculate on the level of support she could command when the issue is debated again.
She said, "I never make forecasts but I know there is a great deal of concern about this."
Even if peers block the Bill the government has already committed itself to using the Parliament Act to force it through.
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