Can heterosexuality be as tedious as our clergy and politicians believe?

Is Carey's concern that gay vicars will turn from the basses to proposition the altos in the choir?

OVER THERE, in illiberal Britain, they have been getting their (baggy and unrevealing) knickers in a right old twist. In the run-up to last night's vote on equalising the heterosexual and gay male ages of consent, the howls and growls of outraged moral majoritarians have filled the pages of the Mail and the Telegraph. They are not, of course, homophobes, perish the thought. Some of their best friends are gays, charming men - with a passion for tapestries and collecting Toby-Jugs - who wouldn't harm a fly (let alone open one).

I have passed forty, but the attitude of many on the right towards homosexuality still surprises me. Male right-wingers are personally affronted by lesbianism (perhaps it is the loss of opportunity they deplore), while both men and women seem to be fixated on anal sex. So, according to Lynette Burrows in yesterday's Telegraph, "the defining activity of homosexuals is buggery". The evidence for this is some study in which 92 per cent of male homosexuals were said to have taken part in anal sex. One might as well argue that the defining activity for heterosexual couples (as judged by St Valentine's ungay Day) is calling each other by ridiculous pet names like Wuggles and Rumpkin.

Perhaps the horror the authoritarian right feels for this one sexual act blinds them to the flaws in their arguments. Take Leo McKinstry, once a Labour councillor in Islington, who now writes, in the Sunday Telegraph, that the equal rights amendment is nothing less than "state sanctioned encouragement to embark on a gay sexual career in the mid-teen years".

This bonkers proposition (that if something is not banned, then it is encouraged) gives rise in my mind to a public service TV ad in which a boyish figure turns to the camera and whispers huskily, "Hi! I'm Tony. You've just turned sixteen and I bet you're tired of strumming your own guitar. Why not get another guy to do it for you? It's a whole lot of fun, and it's not even illegal any more. Thanks to New Labour".

Let us leave poor McKinstry for a moment and pop over to the Mail, where we find Labour stalwart Stuart Bell MP arguing that the amendment will "undermine family life". And goes on to ask whether, "if we adults reduce the age of homosexual consent, are we saying to teenagers it is OK to try it?"

Yep. That's what we're saying, Stuart. But are you saying that heterosexuality is so tedious, so unattractive that, given half a chance the more red- blooded of today's teenage boys would soon find themselves cracking whips over PVC-clad musclemen in Berlin night-clubs? Stuart and Leo seem to believe that most of us are repressed homosexuals, nailed with difficulty to the narrow board of conventional family life. Speak for yourself, boys.

Nevertheless S and L's little problem is still preferable to the arguments of those who see themselves as in loco everyone's parentis. Lynette Burrows (the very name suggests a pathological need to hide from the truth) is sure that only paedophiles and men in macs will benefit from the change in the law. "When I think of my own four boys," she writes, "who were slender and beardless for four years beyond the age of 16, I know that the law was right to protect them."

If they'd been fat and hairy (like many of my classmates) the little Burrowses would presumably have been fair game for every passing pervert. But here, of course, Ma Burrows is showing that delicacy of concern for her teenage sons' sexual innocence that only a person who has never actually been a late teenage boy can possibly feel. Take it from me, Lynette, in 20 years time one of the beardless ones will turn round and tell you stories that will make your hair curl.

After its passage through the Commons, the amended bill will go to the Lords where many are promising a fight. And joining them, apparently, will be the mitred ranks of the bishops of the Church of England, who issued a statement over the weekend, stating that, "we are concerned that the proposal ... may give wrong messages to young people and to our society as a whole."

What wrong messages? That we value gay teenagers as much as straight ones? That we believe that equality before the law will turn happy hets into homos? Or is George Carey's concern perhaps that a whole load of those notoriously gay vicars will suddenly - and embarrassingly - turn from the basses and begin to proposition the altos in the church choir? Much parentis, very loco.

Let me warn their Reverences not to fight it in the Lords. Many will wonder at the sheer cheek of C of E prelates in telling Jewish, Methodist or Zoroastrian wooftahs what to do. Tony Benn's campaign for disestablishment would find itself with millions of new supporters.

It could be that the church hierarchy secretly knows this, which is why they have been making such friendly noises about an amendment tabled by veteran Labour MP, Joe Ashton. This amendment (which was either passed last night, or was taken under the Home Office's wing for further refinement) seeks to outlaw sex between those under the age of 18 and people in a "position of authority, influence and trust". The suggestion is that the passage of this amendment would temper church opposition to the ending of age discrimination.

Odd, this, because the two things are completely unrelated. Ashton, taking his cue from the Utting report on Children Living Away From Home, is concerned that youngsters in circumstances that render them especially vulnerable should be protected against sexual predation by those appointed to watch over them. He cites 200,000 children living away from home, of whom 60 per cent are in boarding schools, and the rest are living with foster parents, in prison establishments, and in children's homes.

This is a genuinely difficult issue. If you are deemed to be an adult above the age of 16 then why are you less of an adult because you are at boarding school? Why should you, uniquely, require the protection of the criminal law? And are sexual relations with, say, a teacher or (most famous of all) matron, necessarily abusive? Long-term and relatively equal relationships are clearly imaginable between, say, 17 year old girls in care, and 22-year-old care workers.

Imaginable, but highly undesirable. The distinction is that it would be deeply unprofessional for a carer to indulge in such a relationship. Yet it is very important that the young adults should not see themselves as having taken part in a criminal act. Rather, the worker should be viewed as having transgressed a strict professional code. Doctors may be struck- off for sleeping with their patients, but there is no criminal trial. So those who look after teenagers could be dismissed and blacklisted, without the need for the police to be involved.

I may be wrong on this. But even if I am, it is surely worrying that such a complex measure should be being used as bargaining chip to neutralise opposition to a measure - equal rights - whose merits are so obvious to all but the purblind and prejudiced.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015