Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2000

Government Kowtows to the Churches

by George Broadhead

Referring to the repeal of Section 28 in November 1999, Angela Mason OBE said: “Labour are finally delivering on their promises.”

In making this assertion Stonewall’s Executive Director failed to foresee the strong hostility to the repeal from the mainstream Christian churches and the malign influence they could bring to bear on the government – this despite the fact that the greatest opposition in the Lords debates on the issue had clearly come from members of these same churches, including Baroness Young who made it clear that she was speaking as an Anglican when opposing the lowering of the age of consent for gay men.

Since many of its ministers are committed Christians, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the government has outrageously kowtowed to the churches by giving them a unique say in what will be included in sex education guidelines if Section 28 gets repealed.

In a meeting with Education Secretary David Blunkett both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches demanded that legal “safeguards” relating to sex education be introduced should Section 28 be repealed. The churches’ own guidelines include the phrases “Traditional (Christian) marriage should be promoted as the building block of society and of family life and as the proper context for the nurture of children” and “Lifelong celibacy can be fulfilling”.

In a letter published in The Guardian on 29 January, GALHA said: “In trying to formulate a code of practice to replace Section 28, David Blunkett is reported to be ‘consulting widely among religious leaders’. How does he imagine that he’s going to get a balanced response, given the hysterical hate-mongering they’ve been engaged in?”

In a further (edited) letter published in The Guardian on 19 March, GALHA said: “Now that heterosexuals are to have their own equivalent (Section 28 deal faces new attack, March 17), maybe there will be some resistance to the mad clamour of religionists. The proposed new guidelines cobbled together by the churches and Mr Blunkett are an insult to the divorced and the single-parent household as well as to gay men and lesbians. They insult teachers but, above all, they insult the children themselves who are supposedly so simple-minded that they will believe anything anyone tells them.”

It seems that Stonewall has meekly accepted this collusion between government and churches – after all, it doesn’t want to offend either party, does it? – but other dissenters besides GALHA who have no such qualms include a leading HIV/AIDS support group, the George House Trust. In a letter to Stonewall’s Angela Mason OBE, the GHT says it is “appalled” by the lobby group’s acceptance of the government’s plans to soften the repeal of Section 28 by introducing new education guidelines. “Lesbian and gay campaigners, if that’s what you still are, must not compromise on the repeal of Section 28 ... You should not be listening to the bigoted carping of selected bishops and bus magnates ... the proposed education guidelines are totally wrong in themselves. We should not be teaching children about the value of family life, marriage and long term relationships ... It is wrong to teach the children of single parents, children who – as a result of separation – have two homes, or young lesbians and gay men, that their home circumstances or lives are somehow less perfect than a ‘marriage’.”

Organisations working in the field of education have also slammed the guidelines.

Steve Bonham, secretary of School’s Out! (the lesbian and gay teachers’ group) said: “We should be fighting attempts to impose a narrow theology on all school students. We reject the portrayal of one form of family life or parental relationship as being necessarily more desirable, acceptable, or supportive, than others. The family lives of many children differ from the traditional model. To suggest to children that their families are inferior could seriously undermine their confidence, security and sense of belonging.”

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers said that the Government was hardly qualified to preach about moral codes. Its General Secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said: “We are now witnessing the absurd spectacle of Government ministers with all kinds of unconventional lifestyles and broken marriages lecturing the nation on traditional family values. If the Prime Minister wants to be taken seriously, he should immediately dismiss all members of the Government who have transgressed the moral code he would force teachers to teach the nation’s youngsters.”

The National Union of Students Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Campaign said: “We must continue to fight for repeal [of Section 28]. However, we will not have it repealed whilst a new section stresses marriage as a concession to the fierce homophobia prevalent in the media and Parliament. We believe that straightforward repeal, with no replacement, is the best option for pernicious legislation such as Section 28."

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Created : Sunday, 2000-05-07 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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