*Age Of Consent & Legal Sexual Activity for the State of
July 2003 Email to the Sandra McLean of the Courier Mail (for their “Perspectives”
page), pointing out the inequities of
To: Sandra McLean at the Courier Mail
From: John Frame
Ph 3350 1562 / 0409 501 561
Re: proposed article for the Perspectives page
This article is entirely
about achieving equality in law for youth in
The small but significant
demographic of youth particularly affected are those young men aged 16 and 17
who may be either gay or bisexual in their awareness of their sexuality. The
overriding ignorance of how our current age of consent law really should apply
is what causes this group of young men to be denied (1) vital sexual health
education, (2) effective relationships education and (3) peer acceptance and
therefore peer support. This is purely because
Most individuals, educators and community youth service providers know that the age of consent for “heterosexual” sex is 16, but most also wrongly believe that all male-to-male sex is illegal under the age of 18.
The true interpretation of
current law is that, in
which discriminate in regard to private consenting sexual activity are commonly
called “Sodomy Laws”. On
Our Sodomy Law was initially proposed by the Goss Labor Government as part of the 1990 Act in which Parliament “decriminalised” consenting sex between men. At that time the offence referred to was “unlawful anal intercourse” involving any person “not an adult” under Criminal Law - which is 17 years of age.
In 1995 the Goss Government enacted a new Criminal Code that contained no discriminatory age for any consenting sexual activity, however before that Code could be “proclaimed” (which would have been in June ’96), the Borbidge Coalition had gained power (following the ‘96 Mundingburra bi-election) and they repealed the ’95 Code.
In December ’96 the Coalition revised the 1899 Criminal Code, raising the minimum age of the Sodomy Law to 18, doubling the penalties involved and changing the terminology of the offence to the undefined term “sodomy”.
The reason most people are misinformed in our state on age of consent and legal sexual activity is that no effort was ever made by the Government to inform the public about the correct interpretation of the Sodomy Law. Consequently, if you haven’t got a letter from the Attorney General to personally tell you the truth, then you’ve almost certainly gained what knowledge you have by “word of mouth” - and this method has serious problems.
The two main problems are (1) that very few people are comfortable talking openly about anal intercourse and (2) that far too many people think that anal intercourse is the only sort of sex that men are ever likely to do with each other. Consequently 80% (my estimate) of the population mistakenly believe that there’s a minimum legal age of 18 for ALL male-to-male sex.
Because most of the community believe that the potential sexual activities of 16 and 17 year old gay or bisexual youth would be illegal anyway, these youth simply don’t receive the care and support they should be able to expect from their school counsellor; they don’t get effective inclusion in sex education or relationships education; and they are not effectively targeted by safe sex information - which may be vital to their health.
Perhaps most tragically of all, these youth miss out on the chance to be supported and accepted by their family, friends and peers as being good, honest, loving and valuable individuals who have much to contribute to our society. They also run a much higher risk of suicide.
The only way that gay and bisexual youth can be expected to have the self esteem and confidence to truly care for their own health and well-being, is for Queensland Law to acknowledge that they are equal to their heterosexual peers. In a “Catch 22” situation, the unofficial word from the Attorney General is that he won’t act to reform the Sodomy Law unless youth themselves demand that it be changed. That’s a big ask from the very group disempowered and oppressed by that legislation.
When I started correspondence with the Premier and Attorney General on this issue in early 2000, I found that major internet sources on age of consent information were misinterpreting our law. Government funded youth support sites also stored wrong information at that time and none of the youth service providers that I contacted knew the correct interpretation of the law. I suggested to the Premier and Attorney General that the Government must either start providing the public with full and correct information or, preferably, they should remove the Sodomy Law - just as the United States Supreme Court has done.
I believe that the Beattie Government should act immediately. Mr. Beattie was, after all, the Chairman of the 1990 Committee on Homosexual Law Reform which considered testimony from expert witnesses and over 2,000 submissions. His Report to Parliament contained the clear recommendation that there be no higher age for any sexual activity. I believe his Government will be praised for their political will and right-mindedness in finally making this so.