Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Responding to the news that the Gibraltar Government intends to seek a declaratory ruling from the Supreme Court on the Rock regarding the constitutionality or otherwise of the presently unequal age of consent (16 for heterosexuals and lesbians, and 18 for gay men), Equality Rights Group Chairman, Felix Alvarez (left), has today said tht "GGR is not only pleased to see that the law will be tested through proper democratic means in the Courts, but also that inthe case that the Court decides the present law to be discriminatory, the people themselves will be able to participate in deciding the precise age at which any new law would be set. Nonetheless, GGR is astounded at the way the tax payers' money is being thrown about so liberally, when all that is normally required is for a simple consultation process to be put in place at zero expense. Ofcouse, we will have to see whether the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana's proposed Referendum is simply about age of consent or whether it is a wider ploy to try and scupper progress on other issues as well."

"Nonetheless," continued Mr Alvarez, "given the fact that not too long ago, Government introduced severe cutbacks on access to legal aid by ordinary people, making it virtually impossible for Gibraltarians to get funding from the public purse on civil issues, the fact that he dips so regularly and so deeply into the public pocket to indulge in legal manoeuvres which are doomed to fail is symptomatic of many things. This comes within the context of the European Court of Human Rights clear rulings that inequality in age of consent legislation violates the European Convention of Human Rights, but also reflects the increasing weakness of the Chief Minister politically and leads us to various considerations."

"Firstly, that Mr Caruana is now besieged within his Party with internal divisions - a substantial numberof his Ministers are clearly in disagreement about the direction he is taking Gibraltar, and this has been made plain in their arguments and voting in Parliament recently on this same question of the age of consent, wherein leading members of his Government argued in favour of reducing the gay age of consent to 16 in order to achieve equality with heterosexual citizens. Four out of ten Government Ministers voted in favour of this change out of a total of 10 Government seats in Parliament. The Opposition, at the same time, clearly pronounced itself in favour of equalisation as a block, whilst opposing the Government's refusal to introduce the law via the mechanism of a free vote. The argument rested on the fact that, under international law, there exists an inescapable international obligation to change the law, and this cannot be dealt with on a conscience basis."

"And, secondly, that there is no doubt that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London have a clear, up-front determination throughout not only the Overeseas Territoriesbut at a global level as part of its international Foreign Policy. This was recently re-stated by Chris Bryant, the Foreign Office Minister, in which he made no bones about his commitment to ending any kind of discrimination against sexual minorities. Mr Caruana can only be too aware of these facts."

"The public at large in Gibraltar are increasingly perplexed. They do not understand why it is that so much fuss is being made over something which most people now see as only far - that all citizens should be treated equally."

"In this respect, Mr Caruana knows his winning streak as a politicianis over. His strategy for a long time has been in line with his "over my dead body"policy. Whether in the case of the lesbian couple seeking joint tenancy rights in Government housing which have been denied to them by Government because of their sexual orientation, and which is shortly to be heard by the UK's Privy Council, or indeed on the issue of age of consent (where Gibraltar is the only European country not to already have equalised). Mr Caruana is insistent on keeping Gibraltar little in every respect. Little in mind, little in progress, and little in equality.

"The sad diagnosis is this: Mr Caruana is living in the past. His time is over. It is good, however, to hear new voices with an openness to the future arising with the Gibraltar Social Democrats, the party currently in Government. We welcome that fact, as indeed we welcome the Court action Government has announced. That is not to say that whatever the Supreme Court rules will remain at the Supreme Court. There is a hierarchy of legal action, which means GGR will fight any ruling it considers erroneous to whatever level is necessary. We are and have been prepared for all eventualities, and as I have previously announced, details will be released tothe public at the appropriate moment," the statement ended.