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The British conservative government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 1986. It states that local school boards: "shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." Early in the year 2000, the British government considered scrapping of the regulation. Church of England and Roman Catholic officials have joined with conservative legislators in an effort to retain it. 1

On MAR-3, The Daily Telegraph said that a compromise had been reached between the British government, the Roman Catholic church and the Anglican Church. Section 28 would be deleted; new legislation would require teachers to promote heterosexual marriage. Teachers would also be forbidden to engage in "inappropriate teaching." However the regulations would not mention homosexuality. The churches have said that no deal has been finalized. Baroness Young, a senior Conservative Party member of the upper House of Lords, wants to retain Section 28. She said that the apparent compromise "Requiring local authorities to promote marriage will not prevent them from promoting homosexuality as well.

Section 28 was enacted in Scotland as Section 2a of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1986. However, publicity about Section 28 has reached such a high profile in England, that Section 2a is commonly referred to in Scotland as Section 28.

Cardinal Winning of the Catholic Church in Scotland was distressed at any possible compromise in Scotland. He warned that: "If we are not very, very careful, we will inadvertently promote a lifestyle for our children which will reduce their life expectancy, increase their chances of HIV infection and expose them to predatory and abusive relationships.

With the recent devolution of power in the UK, responsibility for education now falls under the jurisdiction of the newly created Scottish Parliament. Brian Souter, a transport tycoon, privately funded a referendum on the question. Of the 4 million ballots mailed out, only a third were returned. Of the latter, 87% were in favor of retaining Section 28.

An article in Newsroom states:

The Scottish executive described Souterís ballot as "checkbook democracy." Socialists branded it "a shameful attempt to buy democracy," and to drive home the point burned ballot papers outside a Glasgow bus depot owned by Souter. The Scottish Trades Union Congress condemned the referendum as "a cynical attempt to undermine our democratic processes." 2

The Church of Scotland now accepts that Section 28 will be ditched, but has called on the Scottish Parliament to come up with guidelines stressing the importance of marriage. Scotlandís Roman Catholics are also demanding guidelines, but ones that have legal teeth. And theyíre not giving up campaigning to keep the clause.

Cardinal Thomas Winning, who described homosexuality as a "pretend family relationship," is dismayed over the reluctance of the Scottish Parliament to offer legal underpinning for the traditional family. He said politicians seem to want to "impose a de facto ban on the promotion of marriage," which is both "staggering and shameful."

Church spokesman John Deighan said on BBC radio that the Parliament should emphasize the special position of marriage in society. "We want to see the value of the family upheld, and that family should be based in marriage. We donít want to be held to ransom by a hard core who seem hell-bent on undermining marriage."

As soon as the referendum result was announced Souter, who considers himself a committed Christian, told a news conference in Edinburgh: "The message to the Scottish Parliament from the Scottish people is clear. We plead with you to respect parentsí rights to nurture children with their own beliefs and values. We will not stand back and allow a politically correct minority to undermine the position of marriage in society and determine morality for the majority."

But in this battle between religious ideals and social pragmatism Scotlandís politicians are well aware that a growing and sizeable minority in their country choose to live in ways the referendum result would not suggest. Scottish minister Alexander spells it out: "Four in 10 children in Scotland today are born into homes where their parents arenít married. We donít honor marriage by denying the other relationships in our society today. What this is about is whether we create a moral hierarchy in the law that discriminates on the basis of the sort of home from which children come."

The fledgling Scottish Parliament has had its work cut out over Section 28. Before the referendum result it tried to defuse the issue by offering a vague and unspecified pledge to come up with the kind of safeguards for children demanded by the Church of Scotland.

But a spokesman for the Keep the Clause campaign dismissed the offer: "The Scottish executive has failed to answer the crucial question -- will these guidelines give homosexual liaisons the same moral equivalence as heterosexual marriage?"

The Scottish executive, who is portrayed as intransigent, has moved some way to meet the campaigners. Instead of amending Section 28 ministers have voted to tighten another piece of legislation, The Standards in Scotlandís Schools Bill. The bill sets legal guidelines for teaching sex education in schools. But those guidelines stress the importance of "stable family relationships -- including marriage." The word "including" is too inclusive for the Church and the Keep the Clause campaign -- and also, it seems, for the majority who voted in the referendum.

So a compromise amendment was put forward by Michael McMahon, a Labor member of the Scottish Parliament. McMahon, who has voted four times to repeal Section 28, called for legal guidelines for teachers that would meet both sides halfway. Binding and enforceable rules would stress both the importance of marriage and acknowledge the existence of "alternative family units" to prevent children from different backgrounds suffering discrimination or bullying. The second part of McMahonís amendment was drawn up in conjunction with gay rights campaigners.

The two parts together satisfied Scotlandís Catholic Church and Brian Souter, who offered to wrap up his Keep the Clause campaign if the McMahon amendment were passed.

But the Scottish executive was in no mood for further compromise. Hot on the heels of the referendum the Scottish Parliamentís local government committee voted 7-3 on Tuesday to reject the McMahon amendment, and even more emphatically to throw out a similar suggestion put forward by the Conservatives.

The clear message of the Scottish executive, according to a spokesman, remains: "There is no question of any change." 2

According to Newsroom, the Scottish Parliament voted to repeal the law on 2000-JUN-21, by a vote of 99 to 17. Teachers will now be able to discuss homosexuality and committed homosexual relationships. However, they will be required to also stress the importance of marriage. The new criteria will require teachers to affirm "...the importance of stable family life and relationships including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage." The former phrase would presumably refer to "stable family life and relationships" by heterosexual married couples, heterosexuals living common-law and homosexuals living in committed relationships. The latter phrase would refer only to heterosexuals, because same-sex couples are not yet allowed to marry or enter into civil unions in the U.K.

Status of Section 28 in England:

The law still remains on the books in England and Wales. The British House of Commons voted to repeal Section 28. But after an impassioned two hour debate, the House of Lords voted 270 to 228 on 2000-JUL-24 to defeat the motion. The government stated that they will try again during the next session.

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  1. "UK church leaders consider homosexuality compromise," Maranatha Christian Journal, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000303c.htm
  2. "Scots vote to keep ban on promotion of homosexuality, but Parliament says no," Newsroom, 2000-MAY-31. Newsroom's URL is: http://www.newsroom.org/  

Copyright © 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAY-31
Latest update: 2000-JUL-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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