Liberation Landslide In Debate

Saturday November 11th saw a house packed to the gallery at Newcastle University for what was billed as the “Gay Liberation Debate”, with a local Methodist minister, The Rev. J. M. Furness, proposing that “This House deplores the Emergence of Homosexual Self-Confession and Self-Justification”. Mr Furness who assures us that most of his knowledge of the subject was gained from books borrowed from the library that morning, spent quite a lot of time trying to define who these homosexuals were. And by the time he had excluded you-know-what in public schools, in the armed services and in prison cells, his case that homosexuality was an aberration the flaunting of which struck at the very roots of society began to look a little thin. By the time he reached the responsibilities of older men with families to fight against the corruption of the young, it began to feel a little thin. And when he got to the bit about homosexuals deserving sympathy not condemnation, but that we should, presumably like the people with only one arm to whom he had compared us, be neither seen nor heard, it was clear that his seconder was not going to have an easy task.

After this it seemed a bit unfair on him that Michael Barnes opposing on behalf of Newcastle GLF should start off in a clarion-call voice and style resembling Henry V on the field of Agincourt. He was certainly going to be heard and he made it clear that sympathy was the last thing he had in mind, unless it was sympathy with any homosexual who should be unlucky enough to turn to Mr Furness for advice. Not a beer-glass rattled through his rousing speech and he made sure every member of the audience knew that there was still discrimination against us in law, socially and in our jobs, discrimination which would continue unless gays did come out and fight for the right to live in a way which others regarded as their birthright, fight against inhumanity like that of the Newcastle employer who recently announced that he’d not rest while a “fucking poof’ continued working in his office.

Richard Webster, secretary of Tyneside CHE, seconding for Michael under the Gay Lib banner (who said Brighton is the only place where there’s co-operation?) would have a hard job to knock down Dr A. S. Wigfield, Consultant Venereologist at Newcastle General Hospital, who seconded for the proposition. This wasn’t one of those venereological ogres but someone, evidently nearly as unhappy with the motion as he was with the VD figures, who in a witty speech delighted the audience with some of the best bad puns of a long time and condemned the commercial exploitation of sex in terms with which many gays would be happy to agree.

But it was a pity that his peroration against permissiveness was rather spoilt by a cheerful inability to resist a dig at the idea of gay marriage with the comment that we seemed to be wanting “our bride bartered on both sides”.

Richard was against “permissiveness” as well, but on rather different grounds. What right, he wanted to know, had Society to take upon itself to “permit” fellow human beings to be themselves? If (as he pinned a GLF badge on one side of his nice new suit, and a CHE one on the other) by confessing himself in public he had done something to help just one other gay person to feel proud of himself as a fellow human being, he’d have done something worthwhile. But as for self-justification, that term came from those who believed we had something — the plague? – we needed to justify. He knew he had not.

After which we sat back with bated breath waiting for what the Floor would say. One brave girl made a brief speech in defence of married life, and then… silence. Throughout the evening scarcely anyone had nipped out for a pee, hardly a whisper of disinterest had reached the platform (except while Mr Furness was consulting his borrowed books), yet no one else would speak. Had we all been so brilliant that there was nothing left to say? Had everyone a raging thirst? Could it be that all these liberated students weren’t liberated enough to speak on such a delicate topic? We don’t know. We don’t know either what the voting figures were: there was no point in counting all those hands when they were raised so overwhelmingly against the motion and in our favour.

‘On All Fours…’

The Attorney General in The House of Commons

05-197208XX 2The legal position with regard to contact ads was clarified in a Commons adjournment debate on August 2:

“Prosecutors must carry out their duty. It is their duty to enforce the law,” Sir Peter Rawlinson, the Attorney General, spelled it out. “Prosecutors do not make the law. Very many people are very alive to any failure by the prosecution to enforce the law.

“But accordingly, if people produce advertisements by males or by females advertising their wares, calling for partners, reciting the terms upon which they will associate, describing their particular tastes or giving ways of communicating one with another, these at present are offences against the criminal law.”

Gay News wonders how this relates to lonely hearts ads in magazines like Time Out, and still more to the computer dating firms – what about the ads on the tube trains?

Referring to the International Times case in 1969, Sir Peter said “…the then Attorney General had to consider advertisements by males, the kind of advertisement that contained wording such as ‘Dolly Boy Seeks Sugar Daddy’ and so on. The then Attorney General”…had discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and a prosecution was launched because it was held, and the courts affirmed, that publication of these male advertisements was on all fours with the Shaw case, which involved advertisements for female prostitutes.”

This was the celebrated Ladies’ Directory case in 1960, when a man called Shaw published a guide, with addresses and telephone numbers, in which Soho prostitutes bought space. He was convicted and Lord Simonds, giving judgement, said: “In the sphere of criminal law there remains in the Courts of Law a residual power to enforce the supreme and fundemental purpose of the law, to conserve not only the safety and order but also the moral welfare of the state, and it is our duty to guard it against attacks which might be all the more insidious because they are novel and unprepared for.”

Lord Reid, however dissented “There are wide differences of opinion as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which are not done in the face of the public. Parliament is the proper, and the only proper, place to settle that. Where Parliament fears to tread, it is not for the Courts to rush in…”

The noble Lord Reid has received a lot of support for this statement (see ‘Half A Loaf’ story in Gay News No.3), but Lord Simonds asked another question which forecast the I.T. case: “Would it not be an offence if, even without obscenity, such practices were publicly advocated and encouraged by pamphlet and advertisement.”

Some people, including the police and, apparently, the DPP’s department, seem to support Lord Simonds, as recent victimisation shows.

These statements were quoted by Mr William Hamling, MP (Woolwich West) who raised the matter in the House. Mr Hamling is a brave and trusted watchdog for the freedom of the press and the arts, and a witty attacker upon those who whitehouse (verb.act.).

Mr.Hamling went on to refer to the Attorney General’s reply to a Bernard Levin article in the Times, on the question of the assurances given in Parliament when the Sexual Offences bill was being discussed. “The Attorney General’s statement refers to assurances given in 1964, that publishers would not be prevented from pleading the defence of public good when charged with publishing an obscene article. The assurances given did not apply where the essence of the offence was incitement to commit homosexual acts rather than the publication of an obscene article

“… I should like to direct his (the A.G.) attention to the debate in another place when Baroness Wootton (proposing a Lord’s amendment to the Sexual Offences Bill) moved a new clause specifically on this matter of conspiracy. The new clause read: ‘Conspiracy. It shall not be an offence to conspire or attempt to commit a homosexual act which by virtue of this Act (the 1967 Act) not in itself an offence.’

“The noble Lady went on specifically to refer to the Ladies Directory case and said:

‘We are still a little disturbed by the possible consequences of the Ladies Directory case, and the words used in that case … (she quoted Lord Simonds, as above)… (he) is there referring to conspiracy in a rather wider sense than my amendment, which refers only to the conspiracy to perform the act as distinct from advertising or flaunting it.”

Lord Stoneham, replying to Baroness Wootton, gave some assurances, but Mr Hamling, and others, have doubts as to what these actually meant, and the point is crucial to our freedom. Mr Hamling: “This prosecution (I.T.) and this whole question of what assurances were given raise some very great difficulties about an Act which permits things to take place which some people may consider to be immoral or offensive in the deepest sense, and yet the law says that these acts arc legal and are permitted. The question arises as to how far reference to these acts may be regarded as a public affront. There are grave difficulties about this – about homosexuals meeting, about arrangements that homosexuals may make in order to meet, particularly bearing in mind other sexual acts between heterosexuals which may follow meetings which can be advertised and which nobody seems to worry much about.”

Well set out out, Mr Hamling! Sir Peter, concluding his reply, set out the opposing view equally clearly; “(The I.T.case) was a proper case under the criminal law, as I explained in the Shaw case … the jury convicted, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and the House of Lords upheld the conviction by four to one. There was in that case exactly what existed in the Shaw case, a public affront, namely the publication of advertisements by the persons seeking particular sexual services – in the Shaw case involving women and in the International Times case involving men.

”… I repeat, finally, that this being the law, it is the duty of the DPP, the police authorities and the Attorney General of the day to enforce the law as it is interpreted by the judges. It is their duty to see that that is done, and they must not be dissuaded from that because it may be the opinion of certain persons that the law ought to be changed.”

Not so much changed, as disregarded perhaps. I make no apology tor setting out the debate at such length – if we are to act constructively, we must be informed fully of the attitudes of the opposition.

It still seems, as Raymond Fletcher said on an earlier occasion, that the judges are trying to make the laws, whatever Sir Peter Rawlinson says about the omniscience of Parliament. We must note too, the equation of homosexual activities with prostitution (remember the Dangerous Doctor Rubens?), and the assumptions being made that all homosexual contact ads are for prostitution, while heterosexuals are not subjected to any such blanket condemnation.