MPs Target Sex in Public Toilets
Sex in other public places ignored.
Labour reneges on 'cottaging' reform. Tough new laws threaten two years jail.
London - UK
The Labour government is accused of "backdoor homophobia" over its decision to axe legislation to decriminalise sex in public toilets and sex clubs.
The latest version of the Sexual Offences Bill replaces the promised decriminalisation with a tough new anti-cottaging law that carries a top penalty of two years imprisonment.
The accusation of homophobia comes from gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. He is appalled that the government has reneged on its pledge to liberalise the laws on cottaging and sex clubs.
"Under the original Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Bill, cottaging (sex in public toilets) was to have been decriminalised unless a person was 'reckless' by having sex in circumstances where it was likely to be witnessed by an 'unwilling' member of the public", says Tatchell.
"This would have meant that sex in a locked public toilet cubicle would not be an offence if no unwilling member of the public was present. Likewise, sex in a remote, deserted public toilet - especially in the middle of the night - would not have been prosecuted. Sex in sex clubs would have become lawful.
"Under pressure from the Conservatives, religious fundamentalists and the right-wing press, the government scrapped Section 74 and replaced it with a harsh new law against sex in public toilets.
"For the first time in British law, cottaging will become an explicit criminal offence. Previously it was prosecuted under the generic laws against gross indecency and buggery.
"New clause 67 of the Sexual Offences Bill creates the specific offence of 'sexual activity in a public lavatory'; outlawing not only sex, but also sexual touching.
"Whereas Section 74 had a top sentence of six months, Section 67 stipulates up to two years jail.
"Section 67 reintroduces legislative homophobia by the backdoor. It criminalises sex in public toilets, but not sex in other public places. Why is the government targeting gay behaviour but not its straight equivalent?
"The original Section 74 covered sex in all public places. Section 67 is limited to sex in public toilets.
"The new anti-cottaging law mainly affects gay men. It ignores heterosexual sex in public places such as lover's lanes and motorway lay-bys.
"While a straight couple who are caught having sex in a public place are usually charged under laws like the Public Order Act which carry a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment, sex in public toilets will carry a top penalty of two years jail.
"The original Section 74 also decriminalised sex in sex clubs. That clause has now been scrapped too", said Tatchell.
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