Monday, April 24, 2006

Northern Exposure: For Once, Gay-Rights Activists Are Barking Up the Wrong Tree

They Vow to Fight New Conservative Government's Bill to Raise Canada's Age of Sexual Consent -- Now at a Way-Too-Low 14 -- to a More Sensible 16

By Skeeter Sanders

I was up in Montreal on the first weekend of April, ostensibly to celebrate with my longtime French-Canadian companion our mutual birthday on April 8. I turned 53 and my Significant Other turned 47.

We've been a special part of each other's lives for almost 21 years. And yes, we are a same-sex couple. I'm bisexual and mon partneaire Georges is gay. I've been out of the closet for 28 years -- the last 13 years as bi.

It was a mild Saturday evening. We had just had dinner at one of Montreal's best-known jazz clubs and were strolling up St. Catherine Street toward the city's gay village when we stopped inside a novelty boutique. The shop carries several gay-oriented newspapers from Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto.

But as my eyes scanned these papers, my attention was suddenly seized by the headline on the lower left-hand corner of the front page of Ottawa's Capital Xtra!, the capital-city edition of the Toronto-based Xtra!, Canada's largest gay newspaper.

The headline read: "Gay Groups Prepare for Battle; Age-of-Consent Increase Will be Opposed." Accompanying the headline was the logo, "TEEN SEX RIGHTS."

When I picked up a copy of the paper and opened it to read the article, I was stunned by what I was reading: "Gay groups are gearing up to fight any attempt by the Harper Conservatives [The new Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper] to raise the age of consent from the current 14.

"Just days after being appointed justice minister," Capital Xtra! reported, "Vic Toews said he planned to raise the age to 16. He didn't say whether he would lower the age of consent [for anal intercourse] from 18 -- the age specified in the Criminal Code but overturned by courts in three provinces.

Raising Age of Consent "Restricts Rights of Gay Youth to Sexual Choices," Group Says

"Longtime gay-rights advocates are gearing up for a battle. The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO) will lead the charge," the newspaper said. "It will anchor its position on the same arguments it used earlier to oppose Bill C-2, a bill it savaged for restricting the rights of gay youth to control their own sexual choices.

"CLGRO expects to make written and in-person submissions to Parliament if Toews persists. And they're gearing up by hiring a political action co-ordinator to organize and lobby in this politically more conservative time, says [CLGRO] member Tom Warner."

Capital Xtra! quoted Warner as saying, "We'll look for the opportunities to restate our opposition to increasing the age of consent and for attacking the faulty rationale for it."

Why is Canada's Age of Consent So Low?

"Whoa!" I thought to myself. "Hold the phone! Stop the presses! Canada's age-of-consent is only 14? Fourteen? I love Canada for being more socially progressive than the U.S., but this goes too far. Why would anyone with common sense want to have the age of consent at 14 in the first place? Who's idea was this?

And why is CLGRO opposed to raising the age of consent to 16 -- which is far more realistic and makes more common sense? Has CLGRO lost its mind?

I couldn't believe it. But there it was, in black and white: Canada is one of only 18 countries around the world whose laws set the minimum age of sexual consent at 14, according toe, the Internet encyclopedia.

Incredibly, five countries set their age of consent at 13 -- Guyana, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and Switzerland. And two countries -- Mexico and the Philippines -- have their age-of-consent set at (Are you ready for this?) 12. Twelve! A lot of kids at that age haven't even gone through puberty yet (I didn't go through puberty myself until I was 14).

In the United States, age-of-consent laws vary from state to state, but the vast majority -- including my home state of Vermont -- set the age of consent at 16.

(The Vermont legislature is considering adding a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" amendment to the state's existing age-of-consent law to decriminalize consensual sexual relations between teenagers 14 and 15 -- while at the same time considering separate legislation to criminalize sexual relationships between any adult person in positions of authority over children -- teachers, counselors, clergy, etc. -- and any minor younger than 18).

Sixteen is also the age of consent in the greatest number of countries around the world (25) that have such laws, according to Interestingly, most Muslim nations that have age-of-consent laws -- seven in all -- set the minimum age at 17 or higher. Madagascar's is the highest in the world, at 21.

Age of Consent at 16 Makes Much Better Sense

Granted, 21 is much too high. But any age of consent under 16 is too low, as far as I'm concerned. The Harper government is following common sense by raising Canada's age of consent to 16.

Studies have long shown that slightly more than half of teenagers in both Canada and the U.S. become sexually active on their own volition by the time they turn 16, with a solid two-thirds majority becoming sexually active by the time they reach legal adulthood at 18.

In Canada specifically, an estimated 12 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls have had sexual intercourse by ages 14 or 15, according to data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.

The percentages rise exponentially with age, with 28 percent of Canadian teenagers becoming sexually active between the ages of 15 and 17, soaring to over 50 percent by legal adulthood at 18 and an overwhelming 80 percent by age 20.

The studies found that, for the most part, teenage sexuality increases sharply at age 16. But we're talking about voluntary teenage sexuality here. Despite what you may have seen on those daytime TV talk shows, sexually active teenagers younger than 16 remain a distinct minority of teens of that age group.

Tracy Davidson, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Ottawa, notes that some youth today start having sex as early as age 12. "Just because a law is in place doesn't mean it doesn't happen," says Davidson.

Most Under-16 Teen Sex Not Entirely Voluntary

True enough. But Davidson is ignoring a very important fact: Kids under 16 -- especially girls -- who are having sex are highly unlikely to be doing so entirely on their own volition. In most such cases, it is the result of either peer pressure (mainly from boys who are themselves under peer pressure to "score") or pressure from adult men.

Make no mistake: Teenagers, especially teenaged boys, do experience "raging hormones" as they pass into later adolescence. And some are going to experiment with sex. They need education and information to do that safely so then they can make healthy choices for themselves. But let's be clear: The vast majority of youths who are sexually active on their own volition are 16 years of age or older or are on the cusp of turning 16.

Look at the teen-sex data again: Only 12 percent of under-16 girls and only 13 percent of under-16 boys in Canada are sexually active on their own volition. That clearly means that the vast majority of under-16 Canadian teens aren't.

Activists Ignore Threat to Under-16 Teens from Pedophiles

Indeed, there is wealth of evidence that the majority of teen sexuality before age 16 is involuntary. It's no secret that this age group is a prime target for adult pedophiles. In fact, neither CLGRO nor other gay activists in Canada who oppose Bill C-2 appear to be taking into consideration the primary reason for the bill: To shield under-16 teens from predatory pedophiles.

For that reason, I support Bill C-2 and strongly urge its passage. Having the age of consent at 14 makes no sense to me whatsoever.

As an openly bisexual man of the "Stonewall Generation," I am deeply offended by those activists within the gay community who argue the notion of "teen sex rights" for adolescents under the age of 16. That notion is sheer bunk.

This is not to say that there aren't modern-day teen-aged Romeos and Juliets out there. There are -- but by no means are there a great many of them.

CLGRO's Argument Too Closely Resembles Those of NAMBLA

Most distressing to me is that CLGRO's argument is very similar to those that have been put out for years by the pedophile group NAMBLA -- the North American Man/Boy Love Association -- which has long campaigned for the abolition of all age-of-consent laws.

It took years for the gay community in the U.S. to finally wake up to the fact that NAMBLA has nothing to do with gay liberation and everything to do with pedophilia. Many of its members have been implicated in the global trafficking of child pornography, including a number of NAMBLA members in California who were busted in an FBI sting operation in February of last year.

And it is only recently that mainstream America is waking up to the fact that homosexuality and pedophilia are two entirely different things. Pedophiles are incapable of having sexual relationships with adults and are sexually attracted exclusively to children under 16 -- in many cases, pre-teen kids.

Does CLGRO really want to find itself in the same boat with NAMBLA on the age-of-consent issue? They really, really need to step back and think about the negative consequences that will surely ensue if they go forward with their fight against Bill C-2.


Volume I, Number 22
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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