Labour Bid To Restrict Gay Law Reform
Jack Straw's promised new legislation to equalise the age of consent will exclude the repeal of other discriminatory sexual offences laws.
The Labour government is now dictating the lesbian and gay rights agenda. It is refusing to negotiate with any gay organisations other than Stonewall. OutRage! and all other gay groups are excluded because we are regarded as troublesome.
Labour sees us as trouble-makers because we want all discrimination in sexual offences law ended, including the gay-only crime of "gross indecency". Enacted in 1885, this law was used to convict Oscar Wilde in 1895 and it is still on the statute books today - 103 years later!
The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, doesn't want "gross indecency" - or any other homophobic law - repealed. He is attempting to restrict forthcoming legislative changes to the equalisation of the age of consent. Anyone who disagrees with him gets short-shrift.
Independent-minded, pro-gay MPs, like the Liberal Democrat, Evan Harris, have also been squeezed out of discussions on the age of consent, because they won't toe the government line. Jack Straw will meet only compliant, malleable MPs like Ann Keen and Stephen Twigg who are prepared to settle for the minimalist changes that Labour is offering.
The government is blatantly manipulating the lesbian and gay community. It wants to scupper all attempts to use the autumn age of consent legislation to abolish other anti-gay laws. As well as "gross indecency", there is the ban on gay sex involving the presence of more than two persons, which was used to convict the Bolton 7.
Any gay rights campaigner worthy of respect should be demanding that all these anachronistic laws are dropped. Collusion with the government's miserly, half-baked reform agenda is nothing short of a sell-out.
Even on the age of consent, Labour is fudging and dragging its feet. Jack Straw has refused to agree a moratorium on the prosecution of 16 and 17 year- old gay men. He has the power to advise Chief Constables and the Crown Prosecution Service to either halt all prosecutions or to refer them to higher authorities before proceeding.
In his House of Commons statement on 28 July, the Home Secretary rejected both options, insisting that prosecutions can and must continue because it is "the law of the land" and "there is no question of the law, or prosecuting policy, being changed in advance of any change in legislation".
So thousands of young gay men will continue to be at risk of arrest until the new Bill is passed, which will probably take another two years. Thanks Labour...not!
Metropolis 24 August 1998
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