Bishop of Durham backs legalised gay sex for 16-year-olds: Jenkins says that justice demands equality

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The Independent Online
THE BISHOP of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, yesterday inflamed the argument over the age of consent for homosexuals when he called for it to be lowered to 16.

Dr Jenkins was speaking in Cambridge as part of a mission to the university. He told a largely student audience at the Church Hall of Great St Mary's that justice demanded an equal age of consent. He also said homosexuals who chose to live in partnerships should be affirmed.

Dr Jenkins is the only member of the House of Bishops to call for a lowering of the age of consent to 16. All the others appear to be divided between the ages 18 and 21.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev John Taylor, will vote for 21, as most evangelicals would want all bishops to do. Bishop Taylor told the Independent: 'Comparability with heterosexual relationships does not apply, in that a heterosexual relationship is based on sexual maturation, if we believe, as I do, that people go through a homosexual phase before a heterosexual one. Secondly there are strong forces within the lesbian and gay movement which are not simply wanting people to be free to be homosexual, but to pressure them into choosing gay sexuality. Student age is a time when that kind of activity can target people at too early a stage.'

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, and the bishops of Oxford and Bath and Wells, have all spoken out publicly in recent weeks for an age of consent at 18. The views of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, are not officially known, but it is inconceivable that he should go for 16.

Dr Jenkins is reported to have said that his own instincts, as an elderly person, were for an age of consent at 21. 'But he did say, quite emphatically, that from the point of view of justice, it has got to be the same age for homosexuals as for heterosexuals,' said one of his audience, the Rev David Gosling.

Dr Jenkins also argued that, while some gays may choose to be celibate, and should be supported by the church for this; others, who chose to live in committed relationships, should also be supported by the church. Casual sex, he is reported to have said, is unacceptable among people of any sexual orientation.

The official line of the Church of England permits lay people but not clergy to enter into committed homosexual relationships. However, several bishops, Dr Jenkins among them, support gay clergy who live with their boyfriends. Dr Jenkins said in Cambridge that distorted Christian ideas of sexuality had long contributed to the oppression of homosexuals.

But the Rev Tony Higton, a leading campaigner against homosexual practice in the Church of England, responded with a spirited denunciation. 'It fits in with him denying half the creed, suggesting that Jesus may have been illegitimate, and generally being a heretic. But I would have to take issue with him over this matter of the reduction of the age of consent. It seems to me it's getting confused with an issue of rights. And we don't have the right to do whatever we please. We don't have the right, for example, to indulge in paedophilia.'

Parliamentary debate on the issue has been put back until February, senior ministerial sources said last night. Amendments seeking the reduction to 18 had been expected next week.

Letters, page 15

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