Out actor Sir Ian McKellen had a hand
in lowering the age of consent for gay men in Britain from 21 to 18.
The 79-year-old McKellen, who first
spoke publicly about his sexuality during an interview with the BBC
in 1988, is best known for playing Gandalf in the The Lord of the
Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and Magneto in the X-Men
McKellen met at Number 10 Downing
Street with then-Prime Minister John Major in 1991 to discuss gay
Newly-released government files from
the National Archives outline the meeting.
“If two men merely showed affection
for one another publicly, they could be charged under the gross
indecency laws or for a breach of the peace,” McKellen reportedly
A note from the government called
McKellen's reading of the law “extreme” but acknowledged that
police had used the law as “an excuse for harassment” against gay
“It's been encouraging to note the
overwhelmingly positive response throughout the media,” McKellen
wrote in a letter to Major. “There seems to be a general
acceptance that the concerns of lesbians and gay men should now be
firmly on the political agenda.”
Major agreed in a response, but added:
“I am afraid that my postbag has contained more critical than
The age of consent among gay men was
lowered from 21 to 18 in 1994.
In a 2017 speech, Major said: “Two
years later, with my encouragement, Parliament voted to lower the age
of consent to eighteen – not quite the sixteen that the now Sir Ian
McKellen had advocated, but a lowering nonetheless.”
The age of consent for gay men was
lowered to 16 in 2000.