UK Gov't Faces Legal Action Over Homosexual Age Of Consent

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09pm EDT

London ( - The British government Wednesday faced a legal challenge to its use late last year of special legislation to force through a law lowering the age of consent for homosexual sex.

Three fathers - a businessman, a Roman Catholic hereditary peer and an Anglican clergyman - brought a joint action before the High Court in London, asking it to strike down legislation passed late last year, which makes sex legal at 16 for homosexuals, as for heterosexuals.

The businessman, John Gouriet, said he was a victim of abuse 55 years ago, and knew the risks "from bitter experience."

The new law, he said, would open the door for older men to abuse vulnerable boys. "Pedophiles know how to manipulate young boys into giving their consent. That is why young people need the protection of the law and responsible guidance."

The government last November used a legal mechanism called the Parliament Act - used only a handful of times over the past century, and usually on matters of grave importance - to override opposition in the upper, unelected House of Lords and force through the law.

The upper chamber had earlier offered an amendment that would have made all homosexual acts except for anal sex legal at 16, but the government rejected the compromise.

The second applicant, the Rev. George Curry of an Anglican parish in northeast England, noted that the government had never given the House of Commons the opportunity to debate the Lords' amendment, which would at least have protected young boys and girls from anal sex - "this most dangerous sexual activity."

Curry said the application was being brought on behalf of vulnerable young people whose protection "has been put at even greater risk by this homosexual rights measure."

The third applicant is a Catholic hereditary peer, Lord Clifford, a former lawmaker in the House of Lords.

The case lodged before the court Wednesday will hinge on complex constitutional questions, attorney Paul Conrathe explained.

"In a nutshell it's that the government exceeded its powers by relying on the 1949 Parliament Act" - a law which itself was never passed by the House of Lords.

The government in November had forced through the legislation, "disregarding advice and safeguards provided by the House of Lords" in the process.

Conrathe said the court would first decide whether there was a case for a full hearing, possibly hearing oral evidence in order to make that decision. If there was a case, a full hearing would be scheduled in several months' time.

The Christian Institute, a UK charity, last year spearheaded a campaign of opposition to the lowering of the age of homosexual consent.

The CI's director, Colin Hart, said Wednesday anal sex (buggery) was an issue of particular concern.

"The problem was the bill had a knock-on effect for girls. In lowering the age of buggery for boys, it also lowered it for girls. There's absolutely no lobbying for that at all, no group campaigning for it. The House of Lords' compromise would have kept the age of consent for buggery at 18, for boys and girls."

Hart said anal sex was regarded the most dangerous sexual act, the one most likely to result in transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According to one academic study, anal sex carries an HIV infection risk 2,700 times that of vaginal intercourse.

The other concern for the CI relates to the abuse of young men.

"The focus of the debates on the government's bill has been on 'gay rights,' " it said in an earlier statement.

"The problem is that the same law which allows 16-year-olds to commit homosexual acts together also allows a 40-year-old man to manipulate a 16-year-old boy."

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