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.
To amend the Crime and Disorder bill, and lower the homosexual age of
consent to 16.
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
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
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.
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.
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
The amendment must still go through the House of Lords before it becomes
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Equalising homosexual age of consent