Equality at Last? Homosexuality, Heterosexuality and the Age of Consent in the United Kingdom

Waites, M. (2003) Equality at Last? Homosexuality, Heterosexuality and the Age of Consent in the United Kingdom. Sociology, 37(4), pp. 637-655.

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The so-called 'gay age of consent' was the most high-profile issue in UK lesbian, gay & bisexual politics during the 1990s. Campaigning for an equal age of consent provoked a series of extended public & parliamentary debates, concluding with the passage of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act (2000).This article analyses these debates to reveal emerging social relationships between heterosexuality & homosexuality. It is argued that age of consent debates witnessed the ascendance of a new 'hegemony' supporting 'equality at 16', constituted through the interweaving of knowledge-claims generated within the mainstream epistemologies of biomedicine, law, criminology & child welfare. The analysis integrates critical sociological perspectives on these various forms of knowledge, with reference to epistemological transformations occurring in late modernity. Particular attention focuses on claims concerning the age at which the fixity of sexual identities is established. It is argued that the debate's structure enabled 'equality at 16' to be endorsed alongside the persistent operation of rationales of containment in the political mainstream, & hence that legal equality does not imply recognition of the equal value of homosexuality & heterosexuality. The implications are examined for ongoing struggles over sex offences, Section 28, & the social status of same-sex sexualities.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Age, Childhood, Equality, Heterosexuality, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Sex Role Identity, United Kingdom, Youth, Age of Consent, Identity, Modernity, Science
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Waites, Dr Matthew
Authors: Waites, M.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Journal Name:Sociology

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