London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's Conservative Party urged the Labor government Monday not to override the upper House of Lords and push through a measure lowering the age of consent for homosexual sex to 16.
A Christian lobby group, meanwhile, has pointed out that the law will also make anal sex between men and women legal at the age of 16, and it argued that the health risks in both cases were considerable.
The House of Lords will vote Monday on proposals to change the law, which the homosexual lobby says is discriminatory. Heterosexual sex is legal from the age of 16.
The Lords have twice before rejected the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, and is expected to do so for a third and final time today. But the government is preparing to employ a rarely-used law to push through the legislation regardless.
The Parliament Act contains special powers enabling ministers to force through a law without the approval of the upper house. It has only been used a handful of times in the past 100 years, and usually in matters considered to be of great public importance.
Baroness Young, a Conservative lawmaker in the Lords who has led the campaign against the move to lower the age of consent, warned Monday that invoking the Parliament Act in this case would set a dangerous precedent.
She told British radio that this issue was one of conscience, and noted that the Labor Party had not made changing the law an election manifesto commitment. As such it would be inappropriate to use the Parliament Act to push the amendment through.
Young said there was support to keep the law intact from lawmakers in all parties.
Most European countries do not differentiate between the ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual activity.
In a British poll published in the London Daily Mail earlier this year, 66 per cent of respondents said they did not want the homosexual age of consent lowered from 18 to 16. The age was dropped from 21 to 18 as recently as 1994.
According to UK government figures, eight men were convicted in 1998 for sodomy with 16 and 17 year old boys.
Opponents of the bid to drop the age of consent fear it would make young people vulnerable to older men at a time when they may be confused about their own sexuality.
Some conservatives and Christians say dropping the age to 16 sends a message that having sex at 16 is right, and would prefer to see the law changed to raise the age for any sexual intercourse to 18.
The Christian Institute has now introduced a new argument to the debate. The medical risks of anal sex, it says in a report, would also face 16-year-old girls under the new law.
"The government is removing a key protection from girls because of a gay rights measure," CI director Colin Hart said.
"There is no pressure group calling for the right to commit buggery on 16-year-old girls. [Yet] under the Bill, on the dubious grounds of equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals, men will be able to commit anal intercourse on 16- and 17-year-old girls."
According to the CI's report, anal intercourse carries a risk of HIV infection 2,700 times greater than vaginal intercourse.
"This is such a dangerous activity that the existing protection for young people [male and female] should be maintained," Hart said.
Even condom manufacturers have warned about the dangers of anal sex.
Other risks believed linked to anal intercourse include other sexually-transmitted diseases, hepatitis and anal cancer.
Outlining its reasons for opposing changes to the age of consent, another pressure group, Christian Action Research and Education (Care), said young men generally reached puberty several years later then their female contemporaries.
As such, they should be allowed "the extra time to consider a homosexual lifestyle, without the pressure to become involved too early, Care said in a statement.
"A decision to take part in homosexual activity often leads to the individual becoming part of an all embracing sub-culture, which may not truly reflect his sexuality.
"There is conflicting research evidence on whether indeed 16 year olds are settled in their 'sexual orientation,' given that even where young people do take part in homosexual activity, it appears to be a phase of exploration, rather than a long term commitment to a homosexual lifestyle."
The UK homosexual lobby group Stonewall disputes this. It also cites a 1994 study into homosexual behavior, funded by the Department of Health, which found that, of 1,100 male participants surveyed, not one thought his current sexual orientation was the result of seduction or other unwanted sexual activity at an early age.
The Home Office - the government department responsible for efforts to change the law - argues that "equalizing the age of consent does not actively promote homosexual sex at 16, any more than maintaining the age of consent for heterosexuals at 16 promotes sexual activity for girls and boys at that age."