The proposal to end the law, known as Section 28, was heavily defeated in the second chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, February 7. Section 28 prohibits the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools or "promot[ing] the teaching...of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."
While no one has been prosecuted under this law, its supporters justify the undemocratic legislation under the banner of defending "the family" and preventing children being taught the idea that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are "morally equivalent." This includes right-wing big business newspapers, religious leaders, the Conservative Party, at least one Labour Member of Parliament (MP), and a prominent capitalist in Scotland.
The law, Clause 28 of the 1986 Local Government Act, was implemented under the Conservative administration of Margaret Thatcher.
The right-wing campaign is part of the culture war, the goal of which is to divide working people by making gays, Blacks, immigrant workers, asylum seekers, single mothers, or other sections of working people scapegoats for the effects of the capitalist crisis. As with other anti-gay laws and actions, their goal is to make homosexuals a section of humanity with fewer rights, while underpinning the oppression of women under the banner of "family values." Supporters of Section 28 are acting from weakness however, given the progress being made towards democratic rights for homosexuals and the decline in anti-gay prejudice.
The government, caught by surprise by the right-wing response, announced guidelines February 7 for sex education in schools that stressed the "importance of marriage" and "family life."
The House of Lords voted the same day to retain Section 28 in England and Wales. Fifteen Labour members of the House of Lords voted for the amendment. The new Scottish parliament will vote separately.
The House of Lords vote took place in the context of victories for democratic rights for homosexuals. The House of Commons voted February 10 to lower the age of consent for gay men from 18 to 16, the same as it is for heterosexuals in England, Scotland, and Wales, and to 17 in occupied Northern Ireland. While the Conservative opposition has an official policy of opposing the repeal of Section 28, its members of parliament were allowed to vote as they saw fit on the age of consent question.
Last October, the United Kingdom's highest court of appeal, based in the House of Lords, ruled in favor of a man under threat of eviction by a housing association after his male companion died. The "Law Lords" ruled that surviving partners in same-sex relationships will be able to inherit a housing tenancy when one person dies, giving them the same rights as heterosexuals. More recently, the government has lifted the ban on gays entering the military.
The opposition to repeal Section 28 came from Norman Tebbit, a former Conservative cabinet minister and now a member of the House of Lords. Ending the law, he said, would lead to "arguing in schools for the equivalence of homosexual and heterosexual relationships." The Sun said, "No one outside the pink lobby wants children to be taught that homosexuality is a natural foundation for family life. Tolerance of gay private lives is one thing. Allowing schools to promote homosexuality is NOT on voters agendas." The Daily Mail argued that Section 28 was necessary to prevent "gay propaganda," and "the fashionable nostrums of gay equality" being taught in schools.
George Carey, the leader of the Church of England, is among top church officials who have come out in favor of the reactionary law. Others were Jonathan Sacks, a prominent representative of the Jewish faith; the Muslim Council of Britain; and the president of the National Council of Hindu Temples. Carey said he opposed "prejudice against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation" but resisted "placing homosexual relationships on an equal footing with marriage."
Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle, who recently resigned as defense minister, sought to portray the issue as of no concern to working people. He demagogically dismissed it as a "chattering class" issue without indicating what his view was.
Opposition to repeal of Section 28 has had its sharpest expression in Scotland. Thomas Winning, the head of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, denounced the moves of the Scottish Executive in a vitriolic statement, which received wide publicity. In it he attacked the view that homosexual "behavior" was "wholesome and healthy when it is far from it." Winning demanded the Labour First Minister in Scotland, Donald Dewar, make a public statement of his attitude to homosexuality. The heads of all the major Christian churches in Scotland, including Winning, have also signed a statement against the abolition of Section 28. Opponents of abolition have formed a "Keep the Clause" campaign that has won the support of the richest capitalist in Scotland, Brian Souter, who is a rail and bus company baron. He pledged £500,000 to fund what he calls "the fight for the family lobby." According to the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, Souter "is convinced that any repeal of section 28 will inevitably lead to public acceptance of homosexuality and the breakdown of what he regards as true family values."
In a January 30 interview with the paper he called for "statutory protection of the family" and said he would personally lead street protests against the government to maintain Section 28. In the Scottish parliament debate a Conservative motion to scrap the proposed repeal of Section 28 was defeated by an Executive amendment 88 votes to 18.
Articles run by the Daily Mail highlighted the fact that the maintenance of the oppression of women and the institution of the family, both vital to capitalist rule, are at the heart of the right-wing campaign against gays. In its women's section the newspaper posed whether women were "responsible for the soaring rates of marital breakdown in Britain today." Vanessa Lloyd Platt, "Britain's leading female divorce lawyer" according to the Mail, argued that women's "aggression" was to blame for family breakup.
The weak position of the right wing was illustrated by opinion poll findings published in the Daily Telegraph. The paper was forced to admit that "the margin in favour of retaining Section 28 is smaller than might have been expected," with 51 per cent in favor of retention while 43 per cent supported abolition. Meanwhile, 72 percent of people aged 18–34 viewed homosexual and heterosexual relationships as "of equal value." Reluctantly the Telegraph concluded, "most people in Britain clearly regard homosexuality--and even the existence of same-sex couples--as being a matter for private morality rather than public concern."
Right-wing newspapers are now aiming their fire on further possible changes in the law that would grant other limited extensions of civil rights to gays.
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