'Outing' condemned amid fears of tabloid disclosures

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The Independent Online
THE practice of 'outing' homosexuals was strongly condemned by a Labour front bench spokesman yesterday, amid renewed fears among Government whips of fresh disclosures in Sunday newspapers.

One senior Conservative has already drawn up a prepared statement of denial, which makes clear his intention to sue for libel in the event of allegations being published.

Supporters of equalisation of the age of consent between homosexuals and heterosexuals are equally concerned, believing that the 'outing' of individuals against their wishes will hinder the campaign, now gathering momentum, for a change in the law.

Condemning the practice, Chris Smith, Labour's environmental protection spokesman and the only serving MP to have publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, said: 'The decision as to whether to say anything publicly about someone's sexuality is entirely their own decision. Only they can and should take that decision.

'I take that view because so much more is gained for the cause of enhanced respect for lesbians and gays by someone of public standing deciding voluntarily to make a statement about themselves, than is achieved by a hundred people dragged out of the closet against their own wishes.'

Tabloid newspapers no longer have such a strong interest in revealing homosexuality as such. But in the continuing 'back to basics' morality crisis gay MPs who are married, or who have urged the upholding of traditional family values, are still prime targets, along with anyone who is found to have broken the current age of consent law.

MPs are to be allowed a free vote - probably the week after next - on whether to reduce the age of consent from 21 to 16.

Mr Smith said that the overwhelming majority of the 270 Labour MPs now supported equalising the age of consent at 16 rather than the compromise of 18. 'Most people are recognising that 18 is not a sensible option. Why change from something which is grossly discriminatory to something which is marginally less discriminatory?' he said.

'I think that argument is getting through.'

Mr Smith, a vice-chairman of the Christian Socialist Movement, said that he had yet to come across a Labour MP who opposed any change, nor was there any conflict with colleagues' religious convictions.

'True morality lies in being respectful of the dignity of other individuals,' he said.

Mo Mowlam, Labour's heritage spokeswoman, dismissed the argument that lowering the age of consent to 16 would expose young men to abuse by older partners.

'That is a particularly British view, but the problem of abuse and the age of consent are different issues,' she said. 'Abuse must be tackled, but the offences are occurring either side of 16.'