Labour Vetoes Equality (Again!)
Labour's sad, shameful record on gay human rights.
The latest Labour endorsement of anti-gay discrimination occurred amid all the euphoria after the equalisation of the age of consent. Most queens were too busy celebrating to notice the government's opposition to two important equality amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrat MP, Dr Evan Harris.
These amendments sought to lift the ban on gay sex involving more than two men, and remove from the Sex Offenders (paedophile) Register men convicted of consenting gay sex with youths aged 16 and 17.
Seven gay and bisexual men in Bolton were convicted in January under Section 1 the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which prohibits gay sex when more than two persons are present.
Two of the Bolton 7, aged 33 and 55, were also forced to sign the Sex Offenders Register after they were convicted of consenting sex with a youth aged 17 and a half.
It was to remedy these injustices that two amendments to the Crime & Disorder Bill were tabled by Dr Evan Harris MP, with OutRage! support. Dr Harris reluctantly withdrew his amendments after the government indicated it would vote them down.
He had come under strong pressure from some gay rights groups - not OutRage! - to withdraw his amendments. They argued that Harris's attempts at further law reform would alienate the government and cause Labour to vote against equality. A defeat, these groups suggested, would detract from the age of consent victory. Besides, they argued, Home Office Minister Alun Michael has promised a review of gay sexual offences legislation.
The downside to this much-hyped review is its vagueness. The scope and time scale is unspecified, and there is no explicit pledge to repeal discriminatory laws. Worse still, the review of gay sex offences is likely to be subsumed within a review of measures to crack down on paedophiles!
Another setback that went unnoticed in the rush to pop the champagne corks is that the new age of consent will not apply in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Young queers there will continue to be criminalised for consensual sex. Tony Blair is, apparently, unwilling to press these tin-pot tyrannies to bring their ages of consent into line with the rest of the UK.
Most shocking of all, despite the equalisation of the age of consent, some men aged 20 and over convicted of consensual "buggery" or "gross indecency" with 16 and 17 year olds will STILL BE BRANDED AS PAEDOPHILES AND FORCED TO SIGN THE SEX OFFENDERS REGISTER! This won't happen if the sex is a twosome in private, but it will happen if it takes place in situations where more than two persons are present or if it occurs in parks, back rooms, toilets and other "public" places. Heterosexuals caught in similar circumstances won't have to sign the Register. Proof that we've still got a bloody long way to go to win genuine equality!
Metropolis 1 July 1998
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