Last edited: February 14, 2005

Gay Sex Law that Convicted Wilde Will Be Overturned

The Independent, January 29, 2002
1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL England

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent

Laws that outlaw men kissing in public and criminalise homosexual behaviour in private homes will be repealed by the Government in a revamp of legislation against sexual offences.

Ministers are preparing to announce that the Victorian criminal offence of gross indecency, which singles out gay men and which was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde, will be scrapped. They will also repeal the offence of buggery, as well as the crime of "soliciting for an immoral purpose", which only applies to men.

The reforms are designed to end legal discrimination against gay men and put their treatment by the criminal justice system on a par with heterosexuals.

The move follows the lowering of the age of consent to 16 and an unsuccessful attempt by Labour to get rid of Section 28, which prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality. Ministers believe that the laws—many of which date back to the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861—are antiquated.

The changes will delight gay rights and equality campaigners. However, they will infuriate groups such as the Christian Institute, which has told the Government that the law should have a "moral basis".

Martin Bowley QC, the president of the Bar Lesbian and Gay Group, said that the existing law on sexual offences was "anomalous and discriminatory, especially against gay men".

The new Sexual Offences Act is also expected to reform laws on crimes such as rape.

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