A Private Members Bill aimed at equalising the age of consent for gay men in Gibraltar was defeated in parliament today.
However, a gay group has argued that the wording of the bill meant it could not have been passed and that several factors had prevented full debate on the issue.
The bill was brought by Daniel Feetham MP, a Gibraltar Social Democrat and the Minister for Justice. It was intended to amend the Criminal Offences Ordinance in order to lower the age of consent for gay men from 18 to 16, in line with the law for heterosexuals and lesbians, which is a requirement of European human rights laws.
It was backed by a majority of government members who were present but was voted against unanimously by the opposition.
Opposition members voted against the bill on the grounds that there should be a full consultation on the age of consent for everyone and that it should have been a Government Bill, rather than a Private Members Bill.
Equality group GGR have said the bill is “flawed on many levels”, citing “19th century” language on sex with disabled people, which used words such as “defectives” and “imbeciles”.
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, GGR chairman Felix Alvarez said the opposition are in favour of an equal age of consent and civil partnerships, compared to Chief Minister Peter Caruana, who has stated he is not in favour of gay equality measures.
He added: “[The] government refused to sponsor the bill and instead foisted the burden on one of its members, not as a member of government, but as an individual on a ‘conscience’ basis as a Private Members Bill.
“Furthermore, the first reading of the bill was presented in a lightning announcement of a sitting of the Gibraltar Parliament. The bill was the last item … but the Chief Minister moved standing orders to put it as number one.
“He did all of this in full knowledge that an important number of MPs were absent from Gibraltar attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and without sufficient time for proper discussion and debate. By changing the order of debate, government effectively prevented full debate and airing.”
However, Feetham, who described the vote as a “monumental act of political hypocrisy”, responded: “It is totally untrue that my bill contains pejorative language concerning disabled people. The act which I was trying to amend is based on an old version of the UK legislation and that is what contains the reference to idiots etc which were also contained in the UK legislation.
“I could not amend those parts without wholesale reforms of how you deal with disabled people. I explained and undertook to Parliament that the Crimes Bill, which we will introduce later on this year, would deal with those wholesale reforms. This was also understood and agreed upon by the Disabled Society in Gibraltar – which is the leading association in this area. They understood that what I was trying to do is focus simply on the age of consent issue. “
He said he could not control when the bill came on and that having other members present would not have made a difference, adding that he was not aware of any other “defects” in the legislation.
Feetham concluded: “In the final analysis, I do not understand how anyone associated with gay rights can defend the defeat of a bill that seeks to bring homosexuals in line with the age of consent for heterosexuals and lesbians which has stood for over 120 years.”