EDINBURGH: People working for homosexual law reform in Scotland were astonished to read GN11’s Editorial which — while making very pertinent points on Age of Consent and the heavy task ahead for those who will be promoting sexual law reform in the UK — failed to take account of progress in Scotland in 1972.
The main work has been carried out by the Scottish Minorities Group (Law Reform subcommittee), and by some office-bearers of the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties, to which SMG is affiliated. The whole work was greatly assisted by a donation from an SMG member of £100. Without this vital cash, SMG would not have been able to get beyond the “talking shop” stage.
The moves began in May 1971 when I (the SMG Chairman) successfully guided through an SMG Motion to the SCCL Annual General Meeting, calling on SCCL to take a firm stand on remaining social and legal discrimination against homosexuals in Scotland. This motion was on similar lines to that adopted by the National Union of Students (Scottish Region) in March 1971. A much expanded version is before the NUS Margate Conference, November 1972, proposed by the University of Reading.
In December 1971, the SMG Annual General Meeting adopted Councillor Ian Christie’s motion which instructed the Executive Committee (a) to consult with the SCCL upon the introduction of parliamentary legislation to repeal the 1885 Act as far as it applies to Scotland in order to legalise homosexual acts between consenting adults, and (b) to conduct an energetic campaign to enrol public opinion in Scotland in favour of such law reform.
We got off to a brisk start in January when the SMG pamphlet “The Case For Homosexual Law Reform in Scotland” was circulated to all 71 MPs who represented a Scottish constituency, and to a fair cross-section of Members of the House of Lords who had spoken out in favour of law reform in the 1960’s. The pamphlet was accompanied by a covering letter signed by Peter Wellington, the then Chairman of SCCL. The response was disappointing. Those MPs who even bothered to reply said they’d oppose Law Reform, or said that they were “sympathetic” but didn’t think it was an urgent issue. Liverpool CHE got much the same response when they wrote to all MPs in their area in May 1972. Disappointed as we were, we followed up the letters with an insistent lobbying campaign in the Edinburgh Area. The results of our conversations were quite encouraging (for the first time MPs were face-to-face with homosexuals, and it wasn’t so easy to be evasive), and we gradually realised that our best chances of success lay in the introduction of a Bill in the House of Lords.
Meanwhile (June 1972) we had completed our analysis of the (English) 1967 Act. A summary of this appeared in GN3 (July 1972). The analysis procedure was carried out over a series of committee meetings. We sought the views of SMG members through SMG NEWS, and wrote to several people with a knowledge of Scots law. We also began to write to the major religious and social institutions calling on them to inform SMG of their attitudes towards homosexual law reform, and to support the SMG campaign. So far, the Society of Friends in Scotland (Quakers) has expressed clear support for the SMG proposals.
This was the grimmest period of our work. The task was difficult and often distasteful. The existing law is couched in highly pejorative and emotive terms. Reluctantly we realised that we couldn’t hope to “clean up” all the phrases. The idea of a sexual “offence” is retained in our final proposals, as is the distinction between “sodomy” (buggery in England and Wales) and other types of sexual “offences”. Our legalisation proposals are fixed at 18 absolutely, with strong defence safeguards for 16 and 17-year-olds. No less than 5 Acts (3 exclusively relating to Scotland) are repealed in part or amended, and this explains why we felt it necessary to promote a “Scotland only” Bill — we really doubt whether an English Act could successfully take into account the fundamentally different aspects of Scots law. We have sent a copy of the Bill to Gay News. The Bill will be formally published on 2nd December 1972, and copies can be obtained from Mike Coulson, 9 Moray Place, Edinburgh, 3 at a cost of 30p each, post free.
Although we have had one definite response from a Member of the House of Lords, who has agreed “as a last resort” to introduce our Bill, we are still in the process of sounding out other Members’ views. Our lobbying campaign continues (up-to-date details from our Annual Report for 1972, issued 1st December), and the Crown Agent has congratulated us on the draughtsmanship of the proposed Bill. His main criterion is whether or not reform proposals are enforceable, and our proposals are “thoroughly enforceable”.
We have come under much pressure — even attack — from many homosexuals, some “figureheads”, for pushing ahead with Scottish proposals. When people haven’t been questioning us on the need for law reform (why bother, we’re okay thanks, brigade) others have criticised us for being too timid. Most people seemed to forget that the Law Reform Committee was (and is) working within the terms of the SCCL and SMG Annual Meeting instructions. Within these terms, we maintain, we have made good and solid progress towards Homosexual Law Reform for Scotland.
ED: The editorial in GN11 was written deliberately with the hope that we would receive such a response as above. To date we have received no replies from Campaign for Homosexual Equality or Gay Liberation Front.
We do though, consider it a great pity that SMG have settled for eighteen as being the consenting age for male homosexuals, for as we said in our editorial – ‘The age (of consent) should and must be sixteen, as it is with girls – for to settle for anything else would be an admission on our part that homosexuality is something different and strange.’