Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1988

Humanist Opposition to Clause

National humanist organisations and many prominent individual humanists have voiced their strong opposition to the notorious Clause 28 (at the time of going to press!) in the Local Government Bill.

In the latest issue of Humanist News, journal of the British Humanist Association, opposition to the clause is given front-page treatment and includes reaction from the BHA’s president (and GALHA vice-president) Professor Sir Hermann Bondi, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. He tells Humanist News “too many religions regard human sexuality as a bad feature – one barely to be tolerated, then only in a very highly defined and prescribed manner. But it is an enormously important characteristic of human beings, which finds many different kinds of expression. To say that we know that only one is ‘right’ shows a degree of intolerance which I find most objectionable.”

The National Secular Society has also denounced the clause and lent its support to the Stop the Clause Campaign. In a letter to the Campaign sent on behalf of the NSS, its president, Barbara Smoker, writes: “The National Secular Society, which has always opposed both censorship and legal and social discrimination against minorities, wishes to record its support (as a sympathetic, but non-gay, long-established organisation) for your campaign against the threat of Clause 28 ... If this clause becomes law, municipal libraries could even be prevented from stocking books by such eminent authors as EM. Forster – for we know from past experience that governmental reassurances made while legislation is being debated count for little in the law courts once it has been enacted.”

During the debates in the House of Lords, humanist peers like Lord Ted Willis and Lord Houghton (both longstanding supporters of the BHA and NSS) spoke out strongly against the clause. Playwright Lord Willis, who attempted to have the whole clause deleted, said “It seems homosexuals are fair game for the bigots, and we are now dealing with an open season ... many noble Lords must know that where homosexual people gather in pubs and clubs they get chased out, they get beaten up and they get pelted by louts and yobbos. The tone and content of the clause continue to leave open that possibility.” Lord Willis told Humanist News that he was saddened by the Lords’ narrow vote to retain the clause: “I strongly object to the stigma given to homosexuals and homosexuality in this clause ... I think that this is the first step on the road to an intolerant society.”

Labour’s Lord Houghton of Sowerby said Clause 28 was the product of “persistent endeavour” in the House of Commons “to suppress more liberal attitudes and thoughts about sexuality and morals in general.”

Economics expert and university lecturer Lord Peston said the clause was “almost unique in its combination of illiberality and nonsense”. His speech was interrupted by Roman Catholic peer the Earl of Longford who pointed out that homosexual activity was “forbidden both by Christian and Jewish teaching”.

“Some of us”, replied Lord Peston, “believe that in the past 2,000 years there have been some developments in human thought and human moral values and therefore are not ashamed to take a different view.”

In Humanist News’ editorial, Martin Horwood writes:

“The path to acceptance for Britain’s gay and lesbian community has been difficult. But in general bigotry has been met with bravery and remarkable humour.

AIDS has made that acceptance even more difficult. But now is surely the time to accept homosexuality as a fact of life and encourage (dare I say ‘promote’?) faithfulness amongst homosexual and heterosexual alike rather than dangerous promiscuity.

“Unfortunately, the general response has been rather different. It has been one of fear and hatred. And in the worst tradition of political scapegoating, the Government has chosen this moment to fuel the bigotry.

We have a moral duty to defend the gay community openly against this act of intolerance.”

The same issue of Humanist News carried an article by Martin Stafford, one of the founders of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. The article is entitled Homosexuality and Education.

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