Last edited: February 14, 2005

Britain to Legalise Gay Sex in Colonies

Britain is set to enrage its Caribbean territories by forcing through legal changes decriminalising gay sex.

The Independent, 12 November 2000
1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL England

By Jo Dillon, Political Correspondent

Following a year-long row with politicians and religious leaders in the Overseas Territories, hostile to legalising homosexuality, ministers have vowed to act.

An Order in Council is expected before Christmas which will push through measures to legalise private, consensual gay sex between adults in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Baroness Scotland, the Foreign Office minister responsible, said in a recent letter to an MP that she had tried to encourage each territory to pass the necessary legislation themselves, anxious that the British government did not "impose" laws on the territories against the spirit of partnership.

The minister held a series of discussions with politicians, church leaders, the local press and many ordinary residents living in the Caribbean territories. But when asked to enact the law, they refused.

Lady Scotland said in the letter: "We said that in the event of formal notification that they were unwilling to pass the necessary measures, we would have to consider making an Order in Council." She added: "I expect to do this before Christmas."

Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat MP who has been campaigning for a change in the law, said last night: "The Government gave the Overseas Territories the chance to change the law themselves but they have not. It is vital we keep up pressure to ensure the government proceeds with the Order as a matter of urgency."

The Government’s decision to act was also welcomed by gay rights group Stonewall. Executive director Angela Mason said yesterday: "This is a very welcome initiative. Equality before the law is a basic human right wherever you live. We are delighted the Government is taking these rights seriously."

But the Government must tomorrow fight to defend equal rights for homosexuals closer to home. Ministers face a challenge from members of the House of Lords over moves to lower the age of consent.

Baroness Young, the Conservative peer who has led opposition to the plan, has said she will now accept the principle of equality in age, but will try to outlaw anal sex for boys and girls under 18. Peers will be given a free vote on the issue.

Since Labour came to office, the Lords have thrown out the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which would lower the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16, three times despite overwhelming support in the House of Commons.

But the Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay, has insisted the measure will become law "one way or the other" by the end of this Parliamentary session. The Government intends to use the Parliament Act to force through the Bill, even if it is rejected again by peers.

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