1973: AGE OF CONSENT – A VITAL ISSUE

In your No 11 editorial, you commented that very little seemed to be happening on reform of the age of consent. While agreeing that nothing very tangible has been achieved as yet, I would like to take the opportunity of sketching CHE’s position, and level of activity on this vital issue.

CHE’s objective is simply to remove from the statute book discrimination between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. On the age of consent, this currently means a reduction of the age for consenting males from 21 to 16; the position for females also needs clarification to ensure their rights are as extensive, the current situation being somewhat confused (at least in my mind).

But of course by the time this topic receives serious parliamentary consideration we may be talking in the context of a lower heterosexual age of consent anyway. The Sexual Law Reform Society, sponsored by the Albany Trust and due to report shortly on the whole spectrum of sexual law reform, will probably recommend an overall reduction, with no distinction between straight and gay. One of its members, Dr. John Robinson (a CHE Vice President) has suggested a case could be made for a homosexual age of consent lower than the heterosexual one, since the former cannot give rise to unwanted pregnancies; a mischievous idea perhaps, but one that helps to redress the perspective.

Then there’s the question of tactics. Some might say that the objective should be no age of consent at all, and the tactic a compromise of 14, or whatever. There is much to be said for this view, but it seems to me to be an ideal so far from the realms of reality that to make it our declared objective would provoke derision and get us no nearer solving the dilemma of the under 21’s. The more difficult tactical question, which will become progressively more controversial as we get nearer to parliamentary reform, is the compromise of 18. I hope CHE will remain absolutely opposed to this line; the relevant criterion is the age of heterosexual consent, not the age of majority, etc. But I can see that 18 has more attraction to SMG, who are of course arguing from the position of there being no homosexual age of consent at all in Scotland.

So what is CHE doing about it? The issue is only one aspect, albeit an important one, of our overall parliamentary reform platform. Our objective in 1972 has been to overcome the profound lack of interest, compounded by political fear and emotional claptrap, which our first parliamentary ovetures encountered. To do this we must be seen to be more than a few isolated voices crying in the wilderness. We have recently:

(a) Held fringe meetings at each of the three political party conferences, including the Tory one, where we had the backing of the London YCs

(b) Canvassed MPs from their constituencies via local CHE groups.

(c) Solicited the support of prospective MPs at by-elections, both as to law reform and the activities of CHE groups in their constituencies.

(d) Explained our cause to tomorrow’s political leaders (Young Liberals etc) who are rather more open minded than today’s and enlisted their support.

(e) Submitted evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee considering the bill outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sex, arguing that the scope should be widened to include sexual preference.

The first breakthrough will be the creation of a committed parliamentary lobby; we now have a number of members of both Houses whom we hope will form the nucleus of such a lobby. But we are convinced that further reform requires much more than a self-appointed pressure group; the impetus must come from a massive civil rights movement, active in all constituencies. The expansion of CHE as a national organisation based on local groups thus has a political purpose as well as the not to be denigrated social one. And the need for close contact and co-operation with other gay groups is clear. After all we are not working for a reduction in the age of consent for CHE members only!

Tony Ryde

Tony Ryde

Vice Chairman at Campaign for Homosexual Equality
Tony Ryde was Vice Chairman of CHE in the 1970s
Tony Ryde

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Author: Tony Ryde

Tony Ryde was Vice Chairman of CHE in the 1970s

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