Why shouldn't I snog my boyfriend in public?

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The Independent Online

It's not generally appreciated how very restrictive Britain's laws on homosexuality are. The general assumption, I've found, is that Clause 28 and the age of consent aside, homosexuals and heterosexuals are pretty well on a parity, both being forbidden to act indecently in public, and that's about it.

It's not generally appreciated how very restrictive Britain's laws on homosexuality are. The general assumption, I've found, is that Clause 28 and the age of consent aside, homosexuals and heterosexuals are pretty well on a parity, both being forbidden to act indecently in public, and that's about it.

This assumption has risen up quite forcefully in the wake of the Home Secretary Jack Straw's proposals to do away with some of the restrictions on public homosexual behaviour. One commentator after another has assumed that this can only mean licensing homosexual sex in public. After all, we can do what they do - can't we?

No, actually. As the law stands, it is illegal for two men to kiss or hold hands in public; it is illegal to importune, meaning that, in theory, you could be arrested for giving your telephone number to another man in a gay bar.

These sound like purely theoretical laws, like those quaint medieval ones which require all adult men in Lincoln to carry crossbows on Fridays, or whatever. But they are not; they are periodically enforced. There are quite recent cases of men being taken in by the police after some bigot complained about them kissing at bus stops.

This is so obviously a ridiculous state of affairs that a series of highly ingenious defences have (naturally) been mounted of the present law. The one I like, which has been trotted out a great deal over the last few weeks, is that the law exists to protect homosexuals. Yes, really; it's been argued that if homosexuals do start kissing in the street, then they will raise the wrath of heterosexuals, who will be unable to stop themselves assaulting the poofs.

Altogether, therefore, it would be best to make public displays of homosexuality illegal, rather than, say, send the message that it is probably wrong to assault homosexuals. You see; it's our fault, after all. God knows what the effect would be if this logic was extended to other areas of national life.

Let us, for instance, criminalise the wearing of the turban by Sikhs, on the grounds that they encourage the wrath of racist thugs by their visibility. Hassidic Jews, too; frankly, aren't they too, just flaunting it? To be honest, this is the logic of fascism. They have to make this behaviour illegal, because they can't be bothered to protect our safety.

The point at which you start to wonder about the defenders of the present law, however, is a comparison, which has been made a couple of times over the last few weeks, between two acts. At first, when I read it, I thought it had to be a joke, but now I'm not so sure. It's been said that public displays of affection between men are far more offensive than private necrophilia.

Think about that. There really are people out there who think that two men having a kiss at a bus stop, say, is far more disgusting than the sexual desecration of a corpse, for one simple reason: they might have to look at it.

The question of disgust is a tricky one, brought up by a fascinating Channel 4 series on the subject, The Anatomy of Disgust. One of the programme-makers' examples was the response evoked in heterosexuals by the sight of two men kissing. There was no doubt that their disgust was genuine. On its own, that sounds like a piece of evidence for the anti-gay lobby, but it isn't quite as simple as that. After all, if homosexuals don't, on the whole, find the sight of a man and a woman kissing revolting, that's probably because they get to see it all the time. There's no doubt that most of us would find the sight of heterosexual sex a disgusting one.

The point is that other people's irrational disgust is no sort of basis on which to base any kind of legislation relating to consensual sex.

You could certainly have found similar responses to the Channel 4 research, if you had asked white people in the Deep South of America 40 years ago for their response to an interracial kiss; you could (and many places did) base racial laws on that learnt and disgusting response, and afterwards plead that, after all, it was for their own defence.

So what is to be done? Well, it's obvious. It's our duty, as homosexuals, to snog each other all the time in public. Hold hands with your boyfriend in shopping centres on a Saturday afternoon. If the sight becomes ordinary and unremarkable, then the automatic response of disgust will slowly disappear, and it's right that it should.

No one's proposing that homosexuals should be allowed to have sex in the fountain at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

All that is needed is that the sort of behaviour that goes utterly unremarked upon in the case of heterosexuals should not be forbidden by law. And when it gets a familiar, wearying response, well, there is an appropriate answer: what, exactly, is your problem?

hensherp@dircon.co.uk

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