• But Catholic peers hope to quosh amendment
By Aeriaaare M BROWN
KErrH VAZ MP, a practising Catholic, has defended his decision to vow for the lowering of the age at which young men may legally consent to homosexual acts and said he was happy to have been identified by the Catholic Herald. "I was in good company," he told this newspaper on Saturday.
Also, Angela Mason, the executive director of Stonewall, a gay and lesbian lobbying group, praised Cardinal Hume for his "extremely helpful" contributions to the public debate on the matter.
Referring to the Catholic Herald's naming of MPs three weeks ago, Keith Vaz said: "At the time of reshuffles, I am always grateful for whatever publicity I can get. I am very proud to be part of that vote."
Mr Vaz said that although he revered what the Pope said, his support for lowering the age of consent was based on his "notion of God" as being inclusive. "Being gay or lesbian," he said, "as being black or Asian, is not a sin." According to Mr Vaz, the Cardinal had not written to him or shown any "displeasure".
Keith Vaz and Angela Mason were speaking at the 25th anniversary conference in London last weekend of the Catholic homosexual organisation Quest. Ms Mason said that Cardinal Hume's 1994 pronouncements were helpful in outlining what she called the "absolutely crucial distinction" between private morality and the law. There was no evidence, she said, that an "unequal" age of consent law protected young men from abuse. In fact, she argued, the law as it stood served only to "shut gay men out of society", and "we've all been through the experience of being shut out and excluded". Homosexuals still have much to do in their "struggle for liberation", Ms Mason said, such as achieving legal recognition for same-sex partner
ships. "This is not the end," she said, quoting Winston Churchill. "This is not the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning."
For Stonewall, Quest and the rest of the gay lobby, the next battle will be over attempts in the House of Lords to overturn the Commons vote. MPs voted last month by a majority of 207 in favour of a relaxation of the law on homosexual sex. But Baroness Young, formerly Conservative leader in the Lords, is garnering support notably among Catholic peers — for amendments designed to overturn the Bill when it returns to the Lords next Wednesday. "This is the thin end of the wedge," Lady Young said last week. "Already there is talk by homosexual activists of an age of consent of 14, gay marriage and adoption rights. I think this is a paedophile's charter."
On Sunday, Bishop Victor Guazzelli celebrated Mass at the Quest conference, at the end of which he read out a letter from Cardinal. Hume. "My support for Quest," the Cardinal wrote, "is because of my understanding is that it exists both to proclaim the Gospel so as to sustain Christian belief among homosexual men and women, to further the teaching of the Catholic Church on all matters relating to homosexuality, and to encourage acceptance of the need to live chaste lives in accordance with that teaching."