Peers rally to stop gay sex bill

Homosexual rights
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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is facing a possible battle with Christian peers in the House of Lords over plans to lower the homosexual age of consent to 16.

A massive majority in favour of equal rights for gays aged 16 and 17 is expected this evening as the Crime and Disorder Bill reaches its final stages in the House of Commons.

But with bishops and other peers planning to overturn the move in the upper house, a protracted fight seems possible. While supporters of the measure argue that peers would be forced into line by a majority of two- thirds or more in the House of Commons on this question, the religious lobby is mobilising support for its case against.

Because the bill started its life in the Lords, it must return there before it becomes law.

Baroness Young, a former Conservative leader of the House of Lords and leader of a recent revolt on the Human Rights Bill, said she would oppose the measure.

"There are a great many people from all parts of the House who would be very unhappy about lowering the age. I personally think it is a paedophiles' charter," she said.

It emerged yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, had lobbied the Prime Minister against the reform. Mr Blair supports an equal age of consent at 16 for both gays and heterosexuals and has promised to vote in favour of the measure.

Dr Carey backed a statement from Anglican bishops which warned that changing the law would send "wrong messages" about the way young people should behave.

"Pressures are at work to legitimise any and every lifestyle, irrespective of any difference of value and quality between them. These pressures should be resisted."

Although gay rights campaigners were delighted by the level of support they had received for an age of consent at 16, further measures to be proposed by a Liberal Democrat MP look less likely to succeed.

Amendments to be put in the Commons tonight by Dr Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, would amend the law which prevents gay sex taking place where more than two people are present. They would also ensure that the sex offenders' register was amended so teenagers convicted in the past of having sex between 16 and 18 were not prevented from working with children.

A further proposal by the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, Joe Ashton, may also be opposed by the Government. Mr Ashton wants the age of consent to be 18 for both gays and heterosexuals where one party is in a position of trust.

But ministers want to wait for the results of an ongoing review.

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