Ministers vow to change gay sex law despite defeat

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The government vowed to push through plans to lower the age of consent for homosexuals despite a last-minute attempt by peers to make buggery illegal for under-18s.

The government vowed to push through plans to lower the age of consent for homosexuals despite a last-minute attempt by peers to make buggery illegal for under-18s.

Ministers said yesterday they would use the Parliament Act to force the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act on to the statute book after the Lords supported, by 205 to 144, an amendment that would outlaw anal sex for boys and girls.

Twice before peers have thrown out the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, to lower the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16 , despite the Commons' overwhelming support for a change in the law. Baroness Young, the Tory peer who has led the opposition an equal age of consent, bitterly protested at the Government's determination, stressing it would also legalise buggery for girls under 18 for the first time.

She said her amendment was a compromise that would allow homosexual acts other than anal intercourse at 16. "This gives an equal age at both 18 and 16. Our concern in putting down this and the following amendments is to protect children. Sixteen-year-olds are children in law. By keeping the age of buggery at 18, we protect 16-year-olds from the most dangerous of sexual practices, mainly anal sex.

"Leaving aside what doctors say, the Blood Transfusion Service says no one who has had anal sex is allowed to give blood. That should say something about the dangers."

Lord Longford, the 94-year-old Labour peer, said: "I regard homosexuality as a sad disorder and handicap and it makes it very unlikely that a healthy family life can be had. Homosexual leanings are not to be condemned any more than schizophrenia or alcoholism, but they are sinful by Christian standards and those of many other churches."

Lord Alli, the gay Labour peer, said: "The arguments for change have been won with the public, politicians from all parties and the charities and professionals who work with young people. It is only in this House that change is resisted. Ours is a case of principle and equality. It is a case of fairness and justice. We are not asking for you to approve of homosexuality or homosexual acts. I am not even asking you to understand why they happen.

"What I am asking you to do is to remove the penalty and weight of the law from those young men aged 16 and 17, who consent to have sex with other men."

Lord Davies of Coity, a Labour peer, backed Baroness Young. "We should not take any step which places young people in danger particularly when the scourge of HIV and Aids is sweeping this planet."

The Conservative Lord McColl of Dulwich, consultant surgeon, said the rectal lining was damaged by anal intercourse, unlike the vagina, which was much tougher and thicker. "As the rectal lining is so delicate, it is frequently damaged by intercourse and therefore infected with a variety of hostile germs, the most severe of these being Aids and a virus which leads to anal cancer."

Lord McColl said those subjected to anal intercourse risked incontinence because of muscle damage. He added: "When anal intercourse is practised on infants, the damage is even more devastating. Even infants as young as six months have been subjected to this."

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