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Sir Ian McKellen convinced Prime Minister to lower the age of consent in UK

Sir Ian McKellen convinced Prime Minister to lower the age of consent in UK

Sir Ian McKellen lower age of consent in the UK

Sir Ian McKellen was instrumental in convincing John Major to lower the age of consent for gay and bisexual people, papers have revealed.

The actor met then-Prime Minister John Major in September 1991 in order to highlight the plight of LGBTI people in the UK. Within three years of the meeting, Parliament lowered the age of consent from 21 to 18.

The X-Men actor told the Conservative Party leader about ‘criminal law’, ‘police harassment’ and ‘abusive language in the press’, according to papers released by the National Archive.

He said: ‘If two men merely showed affection for one another in public, they could be charged under gross indecency laws or for a breach of the peace.’

John Major lower age of consent UK
Former Prime Minister John Major | Photo: Chatham House, Wikimedia Commons

The government noted this was an ‘extreme reading of the law’ but conceded the police could use this legal loophole to target gay men.

After the meeting, John Major wrote: ‘I have to say that, whilst fully recognising the sensitivities of the subject, I had considerable sympathy with some of Sir Ian’s points on the grounds of simple, straightforward equity.’

A mixed response

The media response after the meeting was generally positive. McKellen noted: ‘It’s been encouraging to note the overwhelmingly positive response throughout the media.

‘There seems to be a general acceptance that the concerns of lesbians and gay men should now be firmly on the political agenda.’

Major replied: ‘I too was pleased to see the generally positive response in the media – although I am afraid that my postbag has contained more critical than sympathetic letters.’

Any sort of mainstream positive response would be rare. This came during the era of Section 28, an anti-LGBTI legislation that banned the promotion of same-sex relationships by government institutions. This meant schools could not mention non-heterosexual identities in a positive way.

It was introduced by the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margret Thatcher. It is blamed for shocking rates of persecution of LGBTI people in the country. Sir Ian McKellen came out as gay in protest of the law.

Section 28 was repealed in 2003.

It wasn’t until 2001, under Tony Blair, that the age of consent equalized with heterosexual people at 16.

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