GGR: “not surprising” – Tatchell urges UK Government “to read the riot act”
The Gibraltar Parliament today threw out a private member’s Bill that sought to equalise the age of consent for gay men, which is currently 18. The age of consent for heterosexuals and lesbians is 16.
The decision by Parliament is in direct defiance of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union and will be an embarrassment to the British Government.
Gibraltar is a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Its Chief Minister, Peter Caruana has been under pressure from London to comply on equalising the age of consent, in addition to other human rights issues affecting the gay and lesbian community.
The Bill, tabled by Daniel Seetham and defeated 8-4, was put on the Parliamentary agenda at the very last minute. Even the Press were unaware last night that it would be presented today.
Following the decision, Equality Rights Group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez described the Bill’s defeat as “not surprising.”
Mr. Alvarez said that reality of the situation is “quite different” from what has been painted.
“The truth is that a clear majority of Parliament are actually in favour of equalisation,” he said. “And the public must not be confused by the complicated manoeuvres which have fudged the realities.
“The single most important truth is that a majority of MPs are now clearly in favour of equalisation since all members of the Opposition without exception have made their support for equality clear as a block – even though they had to vote “no” to what they considered a flawed Bill – in addition to four members of Government.
“That fact is real and cannot be glossed over,” he insisted
“Whilst GGR was already aware that Government was split not only on age of consent but on other gay equality issues, it is gratifying to find that the GSD government is progressing in its realisation that Gibraltarian citizens cannot be denied progress and equality.
“We congratulate Government members who voted to pass the Bill, and in particular the Justice Minister for his courageous sponsorship. We congratulate the Opposition, likewise, for their principled stand and for unequivocally standing up for equality.
“The only regret, however, is that they were obliged to take the stand they did.”
In London, Peter Tatchell hit out this afternoon at the decision, urging the UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband “to read the riot act” to Chief Minister Caruana.
“The Government of Gibraltar is required by the European Court of Human Rights to equalise the age of consent for same-sex relationships,” he said from London. “The equalisation legislation should have therefore been sponsored by the government – and not introduced as a private member’s bill.
“The government gives the impression that it is trying to evade its responsibility to uphold equality and human rights.
“As a British Overseas Territory, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has ultimate responsibility for ensuring Gibraltar’s compliance with human rights law,” he said.
“I urge the Foreign Secretary to read the riot act to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana. Gibraltar cannot be allowed to evade its human rights obligations.
“The opposition’s vote against the bill gives a bad impression and contradicts its previous support for gay equality. They say it was principled stand against a flawed bill, which had failed to remove offensive legal references to disabled people as ‘imbeciles’, ‘idiots’ and ‘defectives’.
They protest that they were not given adequate parliamentary time to make the necessary amendments.
“The Government of Gibraltar seems intent on scuppering gay equality, with its ham-fisted tactics.
Mr. Tatchell also questioned why the legislation was suddenly rushed through parliament when a four MPs were out of the country.
“There was insufficient time for a considered debate and amendments,” he said.
The Full Statement from GGR
GGR “NOT SURPRISED” BY AGE OF CONSENT DEFEAT
Equality Rights Group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez has reacted to news that the Private Member’s Bill presented to Parliament has been defeated as “not surprising.”
“However, the reality is quite different from what has been painted. The truth is that a clear majority of Parliament are actually in favour of equalisation. And the public must not be confused by the complicated manoeuvres which have fudged the realities. The single most important truth is that a majority of MPs are now clearly in favour of equalisation since all members of the Opposition without exception have made their support for equality clear as a block (even though they had to vote “no” to what they considered a flawed Bill), in addition to 4 members of Government. That fact is real and cannot be glossed over. Whilst GGR was already aware that Government was split not only on age of consent but on other gay equality issues, it is gratifying to find that the GSD government is progressing in its realization that Gibraltarian citizens cannot be denied progress and equality. We congratulate Government members who voted to pass the Bill, and in particular the Justice Minister for his courageous sponsorship. We congratulate the Opposition, likewise, for their principled stand and for unequivocally standing up for equality. The only regret, however, is that they were obliged to take the stand they did. ”
“This is not a defeat for age of consent equalisation. It is a defeat for Democracy and respect for our community,” added Mr Alvarez. “And I say this as a result of the additional fact that Government consciously called a lightning meeting of the House, in the full knowledge that a good number of Parliamentarians were absent from Gibraltar and in its procedural obstruction of a motion to make wide consultation with the public a possibility. That single truth makes the whole argument over Government’s concerns for the delicacy of the issue and the need to reflect the wider community’s concerns questionable, to say the least. We have to acknowledge that on this sensitive issue, there are two main views to this divide – those who want to increase and those who wish to maintain the 16 year level which has been in place for over 150 years. That reality about our community’s views should have been respected and reflected in consensual debate, as GGR has maintained throughout. A debate which should have formed the basis upon which well-founded decisions could have been arrived in order to effect a just and acceptable modernisation and compliance with international law requirements.”
“What cannot be done is to impose an age. What must be done is to implement equality. As a serious human rights organization, Equality Rights Group has never expected a positive outcome to this Bill given that the Chief Minister himself has repeatedly made clear from the outset that progress towards non-discrimination measures for sexual minorities will only come when he has no other option. We have previously warned that Mr Caruana is leading Gibraltar towards an international stand-off on this matter, something which does little service to our country and our people who, increasingly and majoritarily, fail to understand the sense behind this attitude. The Campaign for an equal age of consent will continue, and GGR has already put in place further steps and measures which we shall announce in due course.”