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Homosexual Age of Consent


Facts

  • Until 2003, the homosexual age of consent was composed of two criminal offences. First “buggery” (the legal term for anal intercourse) and second “gross indecency” (which covers all other homosexual acts).
  • In 1967 homosexual acts between men aged 21 or over were decriminalised. In 1994 the minimum age (known as the ‘age of consent’) was lowered to 18. 1998 saw the beginning of a three-year campaign to lower the age of homosexual consent to 16.
  • MPs and Peers had a free vote. The Commons voted on successive occasions for the age to be lowered to 16 but each time the Lords rejected the move.
  • Because of the way the legislation was drafted MPs who voted for the age of homosexual consent to be lowered to 16 were at the same time also voting for the age at which girls could be subject to buggery to be lowered from 18 to 16.
  • In the summer of 2000 the Government threatened to use the Parliament Acts to override the House of Lords and force the legislation through. In response, the House of Lords passed a compromise amendment which kept the age for buggery at 18 for boys and girls, but left intact the provisions in the Government Bill which permitted other homosexual acts at 16.
  • The Government rejected this compromise and invoked the Parliament Acts. They did not allow any time for the Commons to consider the Lords compromise amendment. In January 2001 the age of homosexual consent was reduced to 16 and the age at which girls could be subject to buggery was also reduced to 16.
  • In Northern Ireland the heterosexual age of consent is 17. Hence, the age of consent for buggery of a male and homosexual acts in the Province was reduced from 18 to 17, not 16.
  • It is important to note that the 2003 Sexual Offences Act sought to remove any legal distinction in the criminal law between heterosexual and homosexual activity. All sexual activity with under 16s, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is now covered by the same laws.
  • Buggery of a female in Northern Ireland was legalised in 2003, under the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) order 2003.

Biblical arguments

The clear teaching of the Bible

The historic Christian faith has always affirmed Biblical teaching that homosexual acts are always wrong (e.g. Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27). 

The Bible is clear that the only legitimate context for sex is marriage and that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24). Sexual acts between men and women before marriage (fornication) or outside marriage (adultery) are also condemned (Matthew 5:27-28).

Homosexual temptation

Probably everyone experiences sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sexual temptation, including homosexual temptation is not sinful. Yielding to it is (James 1:14-16).

Christians oppose lowering the age of consent for homosexual activity to sixteen since to do so exposes children1 to this activity. Moreover the signal it sends is also important. Equalising the age of consent with the age for heterosexual activity sends out the message that homosexual activity is morally equal to heterosexual activity.

Pastoral issues

Christians must act both pastorally and publicly. The Church must care pastorally for those facing homosexual temptation, but also teach publicly that homosexual practice is always wrong. There is no contradiction between the two. Both are needed.

Homosexual acts, like adultery and other sexual sins, can be forgiven provided there is faith and repentance. 1 Corinthians 6 makes clear that some members of the church in Corinth had previously been involved in homosexual activity, but God’s grace had transformed them.2

Christian viewpoints

Strong opposition to the lowering of the age of consent

George Carey, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Cardinal Thomas Winning, then head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, were amongst the signatories to a letter in the Daily Telegraph opposing the lowering of the age of consent.

The letter stated: “There are strong moral and health objections to what is proposed, which also goes against the beliefs of many religious people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.”3

Churches throughout the world

Although liberalism has made many inroads into the Western church, most Christian denominations throughout the world still uphold Biblical teaching on homosexuality.

Gay rights campaigners have urged Churches to change their stance. They claim some success with the Methodist and United Reformed denominations and amongst some liberal Bishops in the Church of England.

However, for Anglicans, the Lambeth Conference in 1998 firmly restated that homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible. While some liberal Bishops from the UK and USA opposed Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the vast majority agreed with its statement that:4

  • Homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible;
  • Christians can experience same-sex attraction and that the church should seek sensitively to minister to such people;
  • For those not called to marriage, sexual abstinence is the right course; and
  • Same-sex unions are to be rejected.

Key points

Young people at risk of manipulation

Legalising homosexual acts with teenage boys puts them at risk because they are at an age when they can be vulnerable to sexual approaches from other males, especially older men. Teenage boys can be confused about their sexual attractions. They can go through a phase of being attracted to those of the same sex, but in the vast majority of cases they simply grow out of it and develop a normal attraction for women. Engaging in homosexual activity at this age could entrap them in a lifestyle which they would otherwise have avoided.

Lowering the age of consent for buggery also means that 16 and 17 year old girls will be exposed to the health risks of anal intercourse.

Widening the range of sexual practices which can be committed with young people puts even more pressure on them to be sexually active and to engage in even more dangerous activities.

Current prosecution policy means that age of consent offences are often not prosecuted where the young person is just a year or two from the age of consent. This means that acts of buggery committed against 15 and even 14 year olds are much less likely to be prosecuted now that the age of consent for those acts is 16.

The legislation which lowered the age of consent introduced a new offence of “abuse of trust”. This was retained in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act. This is intended to criminalise those who use a position of trust over a young person to take sexual advantage of them. However, the new offence is too narrow in its scope, welcome though it is.

A Homosexual lifestyle carries great health risks

The largest and most detailed study to date, Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, showed that the proportion of men reporting large numbers of partners is much higher for homosexuals than for heterosexuals. Of those men who had had sexual partners within the previous five years, 24% of homosexuals had had 10 or more partners compared with 5% of heterosexuals.5

Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles also found that less than 4% of British men have ever had same-sex genital contact in their life.6 Yet, a total of 66.0% of all male HIV infections in the UK were acquired through homosexual intercourse.7 In comparison, heterosexual intercourse made up only 20.2% of male infections and almost all of these (87.4%) were acquired though exposure abroad or through sexual contact with someone who had been infected outside Europe.8

Men who have ever engaged in any homosexual sex are banned for life from giving blood in the UK, even if it was ‘safer sex’ with a condom.9

The risk of HIV infection from anal intercourse is extremely high: for men it is at least 2,700 times the risk from vaginal intercourse.10

The condom company Durex said in October 2000: “Anal intercourse is a high risk activity because of the potential for infection from STDs including HIV transmission. Currently there are no specific standards for the manufacture of condoms for anal sex. Current medical advice is therefore to avoid anal sex.”11

Public opinion

Opinion polls repeatedly showed that around 70% of people opposed lowering the homosexual age of consent.12

Most parents want their children to grow up to get married and have children. Legitimising homosexual acts involving teenage boys threatens that by increasing the likelihood that they will be drawn into homosexuality, denying them the opportunity of marriage and having children.

  • 1Those under 18 are regarded as children under UK law: Children Act 1989, part XII, 105 (1). The UN Charter on the Rights of the Child also uses this definition, see: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm as at 9 May 2001
  • 2“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
  • 3The Daily Telegraph, 30 November 2000
  • 4See http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/lambeth/lc093.html as at 23 March 2005
  • 5Johnson A M, Wadsworth J, Wellings, K et al Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Blackwell, 1994, page 213. Calculations based on eliminating those who have had no partners in the last five years. The later National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles was published in 2001 but its sample size is smaller and it excludes the age-range 45 to 59 used in the 1990 survey.
  • 6Wellings, K et al, Sexual Behaviour in Britain, Penguin, 1994, pages 209, 188 (with Table 5.4), 217
  • 7Communicable Disease Report Weekly, 15 (8),  February 2005, Health Protection Agency, Table 1
  • 8Communicable Disease Report Weekly, 15 (8),  February 2005, Health Protection Agency, Table 2
  • 9Why We Ask Gay Men Not To Give Blood, UK Blood Transfusion Services, See http://www.transfusionguidelines.org.uk/index.asp?Publication=DL&Section=12&pageid=391 as at 10 March 2005
  • 10Stewart, G, ‘Scientific Surveillance and the Control of Aids: A Call for Open Debate’, Health Care Analysis, 2, 1994, pages 279-286
  • 11http://www.durex.com/scientific/faqs/faq_4.html as at 26 April 2001
  • 12See, for example, The Guardian, 10 November 1998, The Daily Telegraph, 28 July 1998, NOP survey Young People, July 1998, and NOP survey Young People, July 1997

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