Why Do Gays Need Longer to Grow Up?; BREEN THERE & DONE THAT

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), July 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Why Do Gays Need Longer to Grow Up?; BREEN THERE & DONE THAT


Gays in Britain are celebrating winning another key battle this week. The Government has announced that it won't be contesting a case before the European Commission of Human Rights which claims that different ages of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals is discriminatory.

A free vote will be held in the House of Commons in the autumn to make the age of consent for gays, currently 18, the same as it is for straights - 16.

This will bring Britain into line with most other European countries. But while gays in Great Britain have reasons to rejoice, their counterparts here are anxious. They are worried that, as happened with abortion, another progressive law won't be extended to Northern Ireland.

The age of consent for heterosexuals here is 17, a year higher than in the rest of the UK. As in Great Britain, gays in Northern Ireland must wait until they're 18 to have lawful sex. Some may argue that having to wait an extra year isn't a big deal but that misses the point.

Imagine the furore there would be if men were allowed to vote at 18 but women had to wait until they were 19 to exercise their franchise? Picture the outrage if Protestants were allowed into pubs at 18 but Catholics had to be a year older?

The age of consent shouldn't vary with sexual orientation. Niall, who works for the Belfast gay help line, Cara Friend, says: ''By having different ages of consent, the Government is sending a message to the wider community that gay people aren't equal, that it's okay to discriminate against them.''

Steven, another young gay, says that it will be extremely difficult to ensure that gays are treated equally in other areas of life - in the workplace, for instance - when institutional discrimination exists regarding the age of consent.

In 1994 when the age of consent for gays was lowered from 21 to 18, Northern Ireland was initially not included in the legislation. …

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