Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2000

Terry Sanderson argues that New Labour is in part to blame for the shambles of Section 28 and that religionists opposing repeal may have shot themselves in the foot.

The Shambles of Section 28

by Terry Sanderson

The Section 28 horror rumbles on in both Scotland and England with the common factor of religion as the moving force.

The bandwagon-effect of religious protest has demonstrated quite clearly that the “faith communities” are trying to revive their own flagging fortunes by jumping on our backs and exploiting anti-gay prejudice for all it’s worth. They’re at it all over the world. In the USA the religious right fight elections by whipping up religious frenzies over homosexuality. In the Islamic world, homosexuals are executed as a matter of routine. In Rome, the Vatican agitates ceaselessly against us and issues “bulls” about our being “intrinsically disordered” and “objectively evil”. The Pope is aware that when he hate-mongers against homosexuals he has an enthusiastic audience.

But let’s face it, with hardly any bums on pews these days, religions are finding it more and more difficult to justify the clout they continue to wield in our national lives. The Church of England is in the last stages of a terminal decline, the Catholics are (according to an official source) “haemorrhaging”, and the only religion showing any sign of life and vitality is Islam. And that is hardly good news as far as gay rights are concerned.

Despite the fact that thousands of people who don’t usually regard themselves as religious joined in the crusades organised by the churches to retain Section 28, the present aggression from religious sources might well backfire. There are signs that there is a liberal backlash against the extremity of some religious reaction. People might have fallen for the lies that the churches have been spreading about Section 28, but they haven’t been taken in altogether. Every survey shows that there is no growing hostility to the general rights of gay people. The Daily Telegraph found to its surprise that 72% of its own Gallup poll sample thought that “homosexuality is neither right nor wrong, it is simply a fact of life”.

So we shouldn’t assume that religious agitation against us necessarily works in the way its proponents think it does. A few homophobic remarks might get Cardinal Winning on the national news and the front pages for a couple of days, but they also repel people of goodwill. It seems that the punters can and do distinguish between the issue of “protecting children” and the rights of adults to live their lives according to their own lights. They may not want their children to be taught about homosexuality in school, but they have nothing against gay relationships between consenting adults.

In the end, it may be that the archbishops, rabbis and mullahs will find that they have shot themselves in the foot. It may be they who find themselves on the receiving end of the nation’s contempt for their nastiness and intolerance.

Given that religion has spent the past few months hate-mongering against gay people, it seems extraordinary that Education Secretary David Blunkett should invite representatives from the Church of England and the Catholic Church to help him formulate a replacement for Section 28.

The first effort put forward by the churches was a crazy demand that marriage should be taught as the ideal and that celibacy was the only option for everybody outside of that institution. After consultation, this was watered down somewhat, although the new version still made reference to marriage being the “building block” of society – whatever that might mean. It also said that children should be taught to respect “stable relationships” – a fact that Lady Young immediately pounced upon as evidence that Section 28 must under no circumstances be abolished. After all, what could the term “stable relationship” include? Could it include homosexual couples? Well, of course it could, and therefore the “family values” lobby immediately set their face against it. (Lady Young is always anxious, when interviewed, to say that she has nothing against homosexuals, but given that her entire life is spent trying to make our lives miserable, I think we can count it as a classic case of actions speaking louder than words.)

GALHA has made clear in its contribution to the debate that (a) Section 28 was a lot of meaningless nonsense in the first place and therefore does not require a replacement and (b) the replacement that the Government and its religious cohorts have come up with is a dog’s dinner. Teachers will refuse to abide by it. They are already making very strong noises through their unions – and rightly so. The new guidelines bear little relationship to the lives that they or their pupils lead. Why should they be required to stand in front of their class and talk self-evident nonsense just to stop the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury whinging?

The Government should have had the guts to tell the churches to get lost when they started their miserable campaigns to retain Section 28. They should have found some method of overcoming resistance in the Lords and simply dumping Section 28 and its insulting “pretend family relationships”.

One method of doing that could have been through the Human Rights Act, which comes into effect in October this year. The human rights lawyer David Pannick wrote in The Times that Section 28 clearly breaches the Human Rights Act on several counts, and would have to have been repealed very soon anyway.

The whole Section 28 debacle has been very badly handled. It is a disgrace to the churches who have behaved like a pack of hyenas, exploiting prejudice and inciting hate. It is a disgrace to the Government that doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions. And it is a disgrace to the right-wing media who have been stirring the pot of prejudice with a vengeance.

There is no way that Lady Young and her vile crew in the House of Lords can be placated. They are completely beyond reason. It doesn’t matter what concessions the Government make (short of enshrining Leviticus into British law), the Christian Institute puppets will not give an inch.

In those circumstances, the Government should simply say: we are going to do what is right, even if it isn’t popular. And then dump the clause without ceremony, and without rewards for those who have behaved abominably.

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Created : Sunday, 2003-03-09 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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