Homosexual Age of Consent


  • 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. It 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. At the time in Northern Ireland, the heterosexual age of consent was 17, so 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.
  • The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 reduced the age of consent (heterosexual and homosexual) to 16 in the Province, despite widespread opposition.

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 16, since lowering it exposes children to this activity.1 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, then Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Cardinal Thomas Winning, then head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then 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:

  • 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.4

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. The scope of this offence should be widened to make it more comprehensive.

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

A homosexual lifestyle carries great health risks

The SIGMA project, the leading research project into homosexual lifestyles in the UK, was conducted by researchers sympathetic to gay rights. Their main study was funded by the Department of Health and published by the then Government in 1992. This study found that most homosexual men had casual partners, on average seven per year.5 Ever since the main study was published in 1992, subsequent SIGMA research has underlined the non-monogamous character of homosexual relationships.6

According to the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), 5.5 per cent of British men report ever having had same-sex genital contact in their life.7 Yet new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 72.5 per cent of male diagnoses of HIV reported in the UK in 2013.8

The Office for National Statistics found in 2013 that 2 per cent of adult men identified themselves as either gay or bisexual.9

Despite strong protests from activists, men who have had sex with men continue to be banned for 12 months from giving blood because of the risks to the blood supply.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

  1. 1Those under 18 are regarded as children under UK law: Children Act 1989, Section 105 (1). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also uses this definition in Article 1.
  2. 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)
  3. 3The Daily Telegraph, 30 November 2000
  4. 4The Lambeth Conference: Resolutions Archive from 1998, Anglican Communion Office, 2005, page 9; ‘Lambeth Conference’, see http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/pages/lambeth-conference.html as at 28 April 2015
  5. 5Weatherburn P, Hunt A J, Hickson F C I et al, The Sexual Lifestyles of Gay and Bisexual Men in England and Wales, HMSO, 1992, page 19
  6. 6See for example, Making It Count 4: A Collaborative Planning Framework to Minimise Incidents of HIV Infection During Sex Between Men, 4th edition, SIGMA Research, London, 2011, page 48
  7. 7Wellings, K, Johnson A M, Phelps A et al, Changes in sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain through the life course and over time: findings from the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), Lancet, 382, November 2013, pages 1781-1794
  8. 8HIV in the United Kingdom: 2014 Report, Public Health England, November 2014, pages 9-10
  9. 9Integrated Household Survey, January to December 2013, Office for National Statistics, October 2014, page 3
  10. 10‘Who Can’t Give Blood?’ Give Blood, see http://www.blood.co.uk/giving-blood/who-cant-give-blood/ as at 27 April 2015
  11. 11‘Condoms and non-vaginal use’, DUREX Scientific: FAQ, see http://www.yousaytomayto.net/akqa_work/durex/www.durex.com/scientific/faqs/faq_4 as at 27 April 2015