CAMPAIGNS: Gay victory over age of consent - Lobbying

Lobby group Stonewall was set up in 1989 to promote equality in all aspects of life for gay men and lesbians. In 1994 it campaigned to get the homosexual age of consent lowered from 21 - at that time the highest in Europe - to 16. Despite winning an enormous amount of support, the vote was narrowly defeated, although Parliament compromised, lowering it to the age of 18. This year it pushed for another vote to be held.

Lobby group Stonewall was set up in 1989 to promote equality in all

aspects of life for gay men and lesbians. In 1994 it campaigned to get

the homosexual age of consent lowered from 21 - at that time the highest

in Europe - to 16. Despite winning an enormous amount of support, the

vote was narrowly defeated, although Parliament compromised, lowering it

to the age of 18. This year it pushed for another vote to be held.



Objective



To amend the Crime and Disorder bill, and lower the homosexual age of

consent to 16.



Tactics



To raise support for the campaign, Stonewall took a test case to the

European Court of Human Rights to prove that the law was contrary to the

European Convention on Human Rights. Euan Sutherland, a 16-year-old gay

man, won his case, with the Commission reporting that disapproval of a

homosexual lifestyle was not a ’reasonable justification for inequality

of treatment under the criminal law.’



As part of the settlement of this case, the Government agreed to vote on

the issue in an amendment to the Crime and Disorder bill.



Stonewall aimed to set up cross-party lobbying in the Commons in order

to build consensus and win support for a change to gay rights. Labour

backbencher, Ann Keen agreed to table the amendment.



Briefs and background material were provided to MPs, and Stonewall

placed a rational argument for the equalisation of the homosexual age of

consent.



The group has a large database of supporters all over the country, and

estimates that it has a member in every constituency. It began a huge

campaign to motivate them all to lobby their MPs. Campaign packs were

mailed out to supporters, encouraging them to write to their local MPs

and explain why the law needed to be amended.



Stonewall also carried out an intensive, six-week leafleting

campaign.



This targeted gay clubs all over the country, and resulted in a large

number of people signing up to support the campaign.



A media relations campaign was also organised, targeting both the

straight and gay media. Stories, such as Ann Keen being reunited with

her gay son, whom she had given up for adoption, were given to the gay

media as exclusives, but then picked up by the heterosexual media.



Most of the cost of the campaign was spent on printing and postage -

hundreds of volunteers worked on the campaign, keeping down costs.



Results



Although success was predicted all along, the outcome was very strongly

in favour of amending the bill - 339 in favour to 129 against.



The Express and the Times came out and supported the campaign directly,

with only the Daily Mail consistently opposing the amendment, but even

it ran a sympathetic profile of Ann Keen.



Verdict



Stonewall’s campaign started with its own supporters, but quickly

generated support from many other quarters. While the change was partly

due to a change in the political climate, this campaign was an

impressive effort.



The amendment must still go through the House of Lords before it becomes

law.



Client: Stonewall

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Equalising homosexual age of consent

Timescale: 1993-1998

Budget: Undisclosed



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