Britain urged to reform island law on homosexuality

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The Independent Online
HOMOSEXUAL activists are threatening to take Britain to the European Court of Human Rights and to seek United Nations help in decriminalising homosexual acts in Bermuda.

Under current legislation, men in the self-governing UK dependency who engage in homosexual intercourse face jail sentences of up to 10 years, even if they are consenting partners in private.

The island is symbolically ruled by the former Home Secretary Lord Waddington. But the Bermuda government holds real power and has refused to follow other British territories, such as the Isle of Man and Gibraltar, which have recently bowed to international human rights law.

No one has been charged for many years, but the existence of such a penalty has enraged homosexual activists in the US, with which Bermuda has strong ties.

A wrangle is now under way involving the Foreign Office, the Conservative-led Bermuda government and activists in the US.

The campaign is being led by an accountant from New Jersey, Bill Courson, with the backing of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in San Francisco. Mr Courson discovered from the Foreign Office that in 1988 the UK 'reminded the Bermuda government of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to change its law on gay sex'.

But the island's premier, Sir John Swan, told Mr Courson: 'It is not the present intention of the government of Bermuda to amend the criminal code.'

Now Mr Courson is waiting to hear from the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, on whether the UK will go over the head of Bermuda and remove the law.

If it seems Bermuda and Britain are both refusing to act, Mr Courson plans to lobby for action from the UN, and the Gay Rights Commission is considering filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Courson said: 'The ball is now in the UK Government's court.

'The government of Bermuda has indicated no wish to change, which is really a very blatant defiance of international law.'