Twenty years ago today MPs voted to lower the age of consent for gay men to 18
It’s exactly twenty years since the House of Commons voted to lower the age of consent for men who have sex with men (MSM).
Edwina Currie, at the time a Conservative MP and former health minister, had tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to lower the age of consent for MSM to 16.
The move would have equalised homosexual sex with heterosexual sex and sex between women (the latter had never been treated differently in law).
The vote was lost by 14. Instead MPs voted 427 to 162 in favour of a compromise, setting the age at 18 for MSM.
The compromise did little to appease thousands of angry gay rights campaigners who had rallied outside of Parliament.
At one point, several hundred protesters stormed an entrance, prompting the police to lock the gates.
Three protesters were arrested and one police officer was slightly injured in the demonstration.
The then Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, and most of his cabinet voted against equalisation.
In response to the defeat, gay rights group Stonewall launched a second challenge to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
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Stonewall began the first major campaign for an equal age of consent in 1993.
The ECHR declared in 1996 that the unequal age of consent was a breach of human rights.
It was finally equalised in 2000 under the Labour government of Tony Blair through the Sexual Offences Bill.
The bill’s passage required use of the Parliament Act as the House of Lords had repeatedly blocked the reform.
An equal age of consent became law in January 2001.
In Scotland the Scottish Parliament voted for an equal age of consent and agreed that the Westminster bill should extend to Scotland.
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