The Age of Consent Debate: Gay law veteran calls for radical change: 'It has to be the choice of the individual in a democracy'

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The Independent Online
THE HOMOSEXUAL age of consent should be scrapped, according to the man responsible for rallying public and parliamentary support behind the 1967 Act that decriminalised homosexuality.

Antony Grey, former secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, said yesterday that MPs should at the minimum reduce the age of consent to 16, the same as for heterosexuals, and urged them in the long term to remove it altogether.

'The very least we can hope for is equality. But I don't think that getting the age of consent down to 16 or 18 should be the end of the matter. We should get rid of the age of consent altogether and have an age of protection. It is not the function of the law to punish people for consenting behaviour. It is the function of the law to protect private lives and freedoms.

'The only concern the law should have is with the quality of consent. That is, are the parties aware of the implications? Or were they pressurised into it?'

MPs will decide in a free vote, probably the week after next, on whether to reduce the age of consent to 16.

However, the flurry of concern over the Government's faltering back-to-basics campaign may mean that many Tory MPs will vote for a compromise at 18, an option Mr Grey fears. 'There maybe was a case for 21 in 1967, but for 25 years, successive generations of teenagers have grown up knowing perfectly well what sexual preferences they had, but being in an impossible situation as to what they can do.

'To say that somebody is not capable of giving consent until they are 21, 18 or 16 is absolute nonsense. It has to be the choice of the individual in a democracy. Otherwise we'll have the morals police coming into our bedrooms at night. The law was changed in the first place to stop that kind of thing.'

Mr Grey called for an end to 'political double talk' by 'moralistic twits like John Patten'. 'We have a government that endlessly prattles on about freedom, which for them means being able to make as much money as you can, and then when it comes to our private lives, embarks on some moral crusade telling us what we should and shouldn't do.'

It was time, he said, for society to stop treating children like children and more like young adults. 'We should teach people from the nursery upwards to be responsible. Too much of education is about control to stop somebody causing trouble. Nobody is stupid unless they have brain damage. We are all capable of thinking logically and when it comes to our private lives we should be encouraged to make individual choices.

'What people need as they grow up is protection, not punishment for contravening arbitary things like an age of consent. Let them have their first sexual experience as early and safely as possible.'

Mr Grey said that it was ridiculous to believe that easing the law would lead to abuse. 'That's the fantasy of the repressed moralists. They seem to think that as soon any punitive law is relaxed everyone will go around doing all these horrid things. If that's their fantasy, that's their misfortune.'

Edwina Currie profile, page 16

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