Gay sex law setback for Labour

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister's attempts to re-brand Labour as the "party of the family" will be dealt a severe blow tomorrow when the European Court is expected to rule that Britain must liberalise the law on homosexuality.

The Prime Minister's attempts to re-brand Labour as the "party of the family" will be dealt a severe blow tomorrow when the European Court is expected to rule that Britain must liberalise the law on homosexuality.

The ruling follows the conviction of a man in Yorkshire for for taking part in gay group sex. The European Court has decided that the conviction was discriminatory because there is no law prohibiting group sex between men and women.

In a leaked memo earlier this month the Prime Minister spoke of the need for "eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family".

Instead he will now find himself encumbered by a court ruling that will infuriate the "moral majority", who have campaigned vociferously against the repeal of Section 28, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

To add to the discomfort of Mr Blair, gay rights campaigners now plan to demand that police forces are ordered to abandon all prosecutions for offences of gross indecency. They also want to use the judgement to persuade the Government to include a wide-ranging "bill of gay rights" in the Labour election manifesto.

Mr Blair last week gave the clearest commitment so far to repeal Section 28 on gay rights after the Government's heavy defeat by opponents in the Lords, led by Tory peer Baroness Young. However, in his recently leaked memo, the Prime Minister clearly showed that in spite of his strong backing for gay rights, he is worried that the Government's pro-gay image will damage its reputation on family issues with "Middle England" voters.

Labour party strategists believe the Tories are preparing a moralistic campaign for the election and expect it to attack Labour on the family, the pound, asylum seekers and crime.

A Labour manifesto commitment to further liberalise the gay laws would carry risks for Mr Blair, who has little choice but to act on the European court ruling, as Britain is a signatory to the European convention on human rights.

Last week, after an earlier successful appeal to the European Court over sexual discrimination, the Government conceded compensation payments of £20,000 to around 80 gays for being expelled from armed forces.

The new European ruling on what has become known as the ADT case - named after the initials of the gay man, who wishes to remain anonymous - has become a cause celebre for gays, because it puts a spotlight on inbuilt discrimination against gays in British law.

Police in Yorkshire prosecuted the man in the ADT case after they were handed a video filmed at his home of the man and two male friends engaging in oral sex. He was convicted and given a conditional discharge, but appealed to the European Court.

A Home Office report last week on reforming Britain's outdated laws on sexual offences recommended that group sex between gays should be legalised in Britain for the first time. "The review can find no justification for retaining an offence that deals solely with same-sex behaviour between consenting adults in private," said the report.

Mr Blair will have to introduce fresh legislation after the election to comply with the European Court ruling, if, as expected, the Government loses the case.

A spokesman for Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, said: "We will be calling for the Government to issue a directive immediately to all police forces not to bring prosecutions for gross indecency cases in the interim."

He said that the leaked Blair memo had been "misinterpreted" and that campaigners hope the Blair government, which has two openly gay ministers in the Cabinet, will introduce a wide-ranging Bill on sexual offences in the next Parliament.

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