Letter: The age of homosexual consent: equality or boundary?

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Habgood, Archbishop of York, states that we should not treat homosexuals as being 'any less valuable as people' than heterosexuals ('Can we dispense with the normalities?', 18 February), yet he still advocates denying this community equal rights as individual citizens. I feel that, currently, young homosexual men face stark inequalities before the law. Members of the House of Commons have the chance on Monday to rectify this situation by lowering the age of homosexual consent to 16, bringing it into line with that established for heterosexuals.

He states that the establishment of an age of consent of 18 'will provide an opportunity to assess the social consequences'. However, the social consequences we will actually assess will be a reduction in the attention given by the police to serious offences, as a result of an increase in prosecutions of homosexuals. If an age of 18 is established, the publicity that will accompany the decision will ensure that the police must be seen to increase their vigilance regarding cases of homosexual activity, which will undoubtedly lead to attention being diverted away from other matters.

Dr Habgood feels that an age of consent of 16 'would assume more knowledge about how or why people become homosexuals than we now possess'. However, surely the issue at stake is not how or why citizens choose a homosexual lifestyle, but how they can most fully exercise their rights as individual citizens in living this lifestyle, and that undoubtedly implies the right to receive the same levels of education about their sexual orientation that their heterosexual counterparts can, a right that would be denied to those between 16 and 18 if the latter age were chosen.

Therefore I shall be casting my vote on the basis of equal rights, as I believe that only a reduction to 16 can ensure that we put an end to the discrimination which is faced by the homosexual community, and give all citizens the chance to enjoy equal legal rights at the same time in their lives, regardless of sexual orientation.

Yours sincerely,

MARJORIE MOWLAM

MP for Redcar (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

18 February

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