Clegg calls for full gay equality – what will Cameron do?

Nick Clegg has taken the opportunity of an interview with The Independent’s Johann Hari for Attitude magazine to lay out a comprehensive range of measures to promote gay equality – and has laid down the gauntlet to the Tory leader David Cameron to justify his ‘liberal Conservatism’ by following suit.

Here’s how the paper summarises Nick’s proposals:

* Force all schools – including faith schools – to implement anti-homophobia bullying policies and teach that homosexuality is “normal and harmless”.

* Change the law to allow gay men and women the same marital rights as straight couples, including the symbolic right to use the word “marriage” rather than civil partnerships.

* Reverse the ban on gay men being allowed to give blood.

* Guarantee any refugees genuinely fleeing a country because of persecution over their sexual orientation asylum in the UK.

* Review Uganda’s membership of the Commonwealth if its government was to bring in the death penalty for practicing gays.

Johann Hari ‘s view

In an accompanying opinion piece, Mr Hari gives his enthusiastic support to Nick’s move:

… it is impressive that Nick Clegg has articulated, in full, and with striking passion, an action plan for the next stage in the fight to make gay people truly equal. … Clegg is taking the fight to the last remaining bastions of bigotry. He will get a nasty kick from religious fundamentalists who say that gay couples should never be allowed to marry, and who claim they have a “right” to teach homophobia to children in a way that produces such disproportionate rates of violent bullying and suicide. The right-wing press will savage it as an attack on “freedom” – when, in fact, it is a defence of the freedom of gay people to live their lives free of irrational hate.

So what will David Cameron do?

What wil the Tory leader’s response be to the Clegg gauntlet? Nick himself says he’s no idea what Mr Cameron’s views are:

He’s a confection. I don’t really know what he believes in. I don’t know what his convictions are and the reason is because they keep changing – and they seem to change for convenience. So when it mattered, when people went through the lobby to vote on Section 28, his convictions were on the wrong side. Suddenly they’ve changed and we get an apology!”

Mr Cameron will have to work out whether he will back Nick’s call and risk the wrath of his reactionary MPs and ConservativeHome, or whether he’s going to continue to sit on the fence. Mr Hari concludes his article with a promise:

When I interview the Conservative leader for Attitude soon, I will ask: will Cameron now support the Liberal Democrats’ bold programme to make Britain a genuinely equal country?

What other Lib Dem bloggers are saying …

Lib Dems and sexuality (Nader Fekri)

I’m proud to say that one of the main reasons I joined the Liberal party as was in the 1970s was its attitudes and policies towards personal politics and especially gay rights. The Tories are light years behind and Labour far too timid. I am proud to belong to a party that has such progressive policies on LGBT rights, and a leader unafraid to proclaim them.

Nick Clegg Sets Out the Real Gay Rights’ Agenda (Stephen Glenn)

Nick Clegg this morning talking in The Independent goes further than any other leader ever has to knock out the last few areas of inequality for the gay community. He’s basically saying enough of ‘equal but different’ why can’t we just be equal.

Menahwile Sara Scarlett at the Liberal Vision blog is more lukewarm, quoting Red Rag’s assessment:

[Nick] is saying “I believe this, you should too, even if you religion is opposed I will legislate to force your schools to brainwash your children with my thinking.” What could be more illiberal?

LDV readers may also wish to re-read Andrew Reeves’ guest post for LDV from September 2009 – Conservatives are complete hypocrites on LGBT issues as Section 28 raises its ugly head again – which asked the simple question:

How can people in this country trust the Conservatives? How can any gay person vote for them or even worse be a paid up member? How can anyone from the LGBT community trust Cameron or any of his candidates? They don’t practice what they preach.

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  • Sara Scarlett 13th Jan '10 - 9:13pm

    Of course I’m more lukewarm.

    I don’t think schools should be “legally obliged to teach anything”. What if Jewish schools were legally obliged to teach children that circumcision was “unnecessary”. There would be an outrage. If it’s ok to propose authoritarian measures that align with our prejudices then we are just like the tories.


  • Sara Scarlett 13th Jan '10 - 9:36pm

    “Well, Sara, if these “faith” schools want to be reactionary why don’t they go it alone, without taxpayer funding?”

    Why not, indeed?!

  • Sara Scarlett 13th Jan '10 - 9:56pm

    Just to clarify. I don’t believe in state education of any kind. It’s a completely unnecessary and unfortunate Victorian hangover.

    If you are an Evangelical Christian who believes that homosexuality is a sin, then you should be allowed to send your child to a school that teaches as much.

  • Sara Scarlett 13th Jan '10 - 10:12pm

    Also aren’t we conflating two issues here?

    Surely bullying is bullying. Being legally obliged to teach that homosexuality is normal is something else?

    What if you hold homophobic views but don’t bully anyone?

  • Richard Church 13th Jan '10 - 10:14pm


    So what kind of schools would you allow. What about schools that refuse to admit black people?

    Yoe are clearly more interested in the freedom of institutions to oppress and discriminate than you are of people to express their individuality. That’s neither Liberal nor Visionary.

  • In the case of the gay young person sent to the evangelical Christian school, doesn’t (s)he have any right to protection from those teaching that there is something fundamentally wrong with him? Why are the concerns of parents and schools in these instances paramount?

  • Sara Scarlett 13th Jan '10 - 10:57pm

    Well, Geoffrey, you’ll just have to trust the parents to make the right choices for their children.

    Don’t get me wrong, if we don’t have these laws and every child becomes a repressed homosexual and/or a terrorist, I will conceded.

  • I’m not sure the distinction between bullying and homophobia is an easy one to draw; aren’t gay pupils inevitably going to feel like victims in surroundings as hostile to them as some faith schools?

  • Let’s not forget that equal marriage isn’t yet Lib Dem party policy, just Nick’s (and DELGA‘s) opinion. If you want to support it, please join and promote our Marriage Without Borders campaign!

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Jan '10 - 8:39am

    I have to admit I’m a little surprised by this move. I wasn’t expecting even Clegg to come down this hard on the subject, in the run up to an election, since it’s never been a vote winner and has so often invited attacks from the religious right.

    But still, a welcome development.

  • I would first like to point out that Google has provided an amusing juxtaposition of adverts for this article: ‘Gay Chat’ and ‘Conservative Way Forward’. But never mind.

    Jock (and other libertarians, for that matter). What moral privilege allows parents to brainwash a child rather than the state? Parents smack children, so the argument that the state has exclusive rights around violence doesn’t work here. How come indoctrination is okay when it comes from one source and not another?

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jan '10 - 10:33am

    I had carefully written a comment on this article, but it was rejected as “spam” by this site’s system.

    You may find this comment here.

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Jan '10 - 3:05pm

    Ah, I was wondering how long it would take for the nothing-but-insults posts to show up.

    Penny arcade called it

  • First of all, @Tom: I’m not going to bother to engage with you, as your application of the label ‘illiberal’ to me as a consequence of raising a query around moral primacy (which implied no particular answer) rather implies you’re a moron given to rhetoric rather than proper debate. Jock is a self-professed libertarian, so I see no problem with applying that label to him.

    @Jock: It is, of course, a quandary which is why I raised it. It’s a quandary for any who self-identifies as a liberal, as well as libertarians. The root cause is determining when the child becomes an independent actor, and who provides that determination. The latter is a problem, as the power to determine when an individual is an independent actor is the power to determine when an individual has the moral attributes we would associate with self determination; in essence, to be able to determine when someone is human or not. I’m sure we can both agree that no-one should have that power, and therefore we need a criteria based on external factors rather than individual judgement. I would argue it should be based on the capability of an individual to express their own judgement; i.e. communicate intention. One could get recursive about this if one wished, but let’s not bother for the sake of argument.

    This would seemingly place the advent of the independent actor around the time a child learns to talk, which may be significantly earlier than many would be comfortable with – however, specifying a particular age ignores the fact that everyone develops at a different pace, and the only clear dividing line is the possession of intention. It also implies that anyone attempting to determine that child’s behaviour, whether it’s the state or their family, is equally culpable of the sort of imposition that libertarians find immoral.

    One of the reasons I’m not a libertarian is the aggression principle you refer to; it would appear to prevent me from, say, stopping a friend in a depressive state from killing or injuring themselves when they run out of their medication. More than that, the capability of the individual to express violence is the only guarantee of social fairness – the only check on power acquired through intellectual means (i.e. money) is that capability. In this sense, I have absolutely no problem with Clegg’s suggestion as long as it’s part of a broader educational approach that demands that anything taught within state-provided education will not later be discovered by the child to be untrue; included in this is the possibility that scientific theories may be disproven but as long as they’re taught within the context of the scientific method they’ll derive their truth value from the nature of theories in that context.

    This is, of course, an incredibly high standard to hold public education to account, and one open to challenge from people who want to get all Foucaultian about it, but it has the advantage of reducing all teaching of opinion to description of that opinion rather than endorsement thereof. This would go some way towards meeting the challenge of, ‘State-funded indoctrination’ raised here. In my view (which of course I am happy to impose, being the simply /dreadful/ illiberal that I am), requiring children to be educated in this manner increases their capability of choice far more than it removes their liberty.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jan '10 - 4:56pm


    I agree with Matthew’s (offsite) comment!

    However, to deal with his main concern, I believe that when they say “anti-homophobic bullying policy” it extends to people using terms of homophobic abuse against people who are not gay. Whether of course in implementation the school seems to assume that the victim is, in fact, gay and treat him or her as such in the advice they give would be part of the measure of whether they succeed or fail in their policy.

    Well, yes, but that was my point. Those lobbying for this sort of policy seem to be doing so on the basis that “homophobic bullying” will primarily be aimed at those who are gay. The use of such bullying against anyone else seems to be dismissed as a sort of footnote issue.

    My experience, both from what I remember from when I was a schoolboy, and from what I am told by young people now, is that the term “gay” and pejorative terms which are supposed to mean the same, are commonly thrown about as a general insult, and in fact the main aim is to hurt someone who is not gay by suggesting they are.

    Therefore, I have no confidence that those lobbying for such a policy, and if successful probably writing it, have a full understanding of the issue, and therefore I fear they will write and enforce the policy in a way which ignores the second and more common sort of “homophobic bullying”.

    So not only is there the whole issue of whether such prescriptive policy should be enforced by state order, it also seems to me highly likely it will be enforced in a way which will end up with the schools joining in the bullying in most cases by accepting on face value what were meant to be hurtful accusations made by the bully.

    While it might be said that one ought not to be hurt by having such accusations thrown at one, it is meant to hurt and it is perceived to hurt, because its intention (when boy to boy) is to rub in the message “you are not a socially successful person”.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th Jan '10 - 6:26pm

    “The reason they have a ban on “gay blood” is that they are not testing donated blood for HIV”

    From the National Blood Service website:
    “Every single blood donation is tested for HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and hepatitis B and C.
    Infected blood isn’t used in transfusions but our test may not always detect the early stages of viral infection.
    The chance of infected blood getting past our screening tests is very small, but we rely on your help and co-operation.”

    It would be interesting to hear an informed scientific view on this question.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th Jan '10 - 6:58pm

    Actually, I see elsewhere that the ban is currently under review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, with a recommendation due later this year.

    It doesn’t seem helpful for people to pre-empt this process in order to score political points. The line taken by the Terrence Higgins Trust seems more sensible:
    “We believe that the current policy of the National Blood Service was based on the best available evidence when it was drawn up. Only when an expert review has re-evaluated risks to the safety of the blood supply should the current policy be changed in line with new evidence.”

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Jan '10 - 11:18pm

    In a truly free market, schools which consistently turned out sociopaths, neurotics or simply people who did not match up to teh standards expected of their particular pedagogical method would not last long.

    On the contrary, in a truly free market, the schools which lasted the longest would be those whose PR department was best at convincing parents that the sociopaths they cheaply turned out were highly valued and productive members of society. These schools would have a significant financial advantage over those that enjoyed a similar reputation, but spent more money on education, hence a free market would prefer the sociopaths.

    Free markets run on perceptions, not facts. They are nothing more than the tyranny of the media, in much the same way that pure democracies are the tyranny of the masses.

    What you’re thinking of is a fair market, which is really hard to create, and obviously a whole lot less free than the markets we currently have (which involve a lot of swindling, fraud, theft, and exploitation of the ignorance of customers).

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th Jan '10 - 9:29am

    “On the blood ban, I think this is excellent news, but my understanding is that last summers review of the policy rejected lifting the ban on two main grounds.”

    I believe that’s incorrect. As I posted above, the review is still under way, and a recommendation is expected later this year.

    You also suggest that the government is unwilling to fund testing for “the range of infections which require screening”. As I posted above, testing is performed for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Which relevant tests are you suggesting aren’t carried out?

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jan '10 - 10:15am

    “there is a fine line between saying to adolescents that homosexuality is ok and promoting sexual behaviour among those under the age of consent.”
    No there isn’t. Unless you think teachers should be careful of telling under-16s that it’s okay to be attracted to members of the opposite s3x as well?

    “As the law stands under-16s cannot be gay because they legally cannot consent to sex.”
    A similar point. I’m damn sure I was hetero for years before I was 16 (and indeed for long, miserable years before I ever managed to persuade any woman to consent to s3x with me…). The law doesn’t (thankfully) have anything to say about “being [happy]”.

    [Some words have been changed in the hope of evading the ever-vigilant LDV spam filter.]

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jan '10 - 10:30am


    My experience of going to school in the late 80s, was that gay was an insult then, or a synonym for “rubbish”.

    It did not carry much weight back then

    This is not really what I was talking about. As you say, there has been a linguistic development (probably already has been surpassed by something else in schools, so now it gets used in that way by young adults who want to look trendy) which means that particular word is used in a way which is perceived as meaning just “rubbish”.

    I was actually talking about crude and explicit language in which it is strongly intended to suggest the person in question acts as they do because of a physical attraction to people of the same gender, and which goes on to suggest and to talk in graphical detail about physical acts they might therefore do. The intention is to hurt and to hurt deeply. I am not going to put it any more than that, since I don’t want again to have to make a link to spam-detector-censored material. As I said previously, I recognise the need for spam detectors. Having worked in similar areas myself (I mean the sort of software involved) I can appreciate how difficult it is to avoid false positives and yet effectively rule out real spam.

  • “Just to clarify. I don’t believe in state education of any kind. It’s a completely unnecessary and unfortunate Victorian hangover.”

    Another fantastic vote loser from the fantasy world of “Liberal” Vision.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th Jan '10 - 3:57pm


    I don’t know what page of the THT website you’re looking at, but on the main page on blood donation it says this:
    “THT supports the review announced by the National Blood Service in 2009 of their policy on who in the UK is allowed to give blood and who is not. We ask people to wait for the results of the review and abide by the decision made on the evidence by SABTO, the independent review body answerable to Government for the safety of blood products. We believe that the current policy of the National Blood Service was based on the best available evidence when it was drawn up. Only when an expert review has re-evaluated risks to the safety of the blood supply should the current policy be changed in line with new evidence.”

  • Surely the real target should be zero tolerance of homophobic bullying in schools, not more pointless “relationship education” which, in my experience, was much more fun as an extra curricular activity anyway

  • * Force all schools – including faith schools – to implement anti-homophobia bullying policies and teach that homosexuality is “normal and harmless”.

    I can’t help thinking that, had the above quote been reworded slightly, the debate might have been different:

    *Require all schools – including faith schools – to implement anti-homophobia bullying policies and prohibit them from teaching that homosexuality is “wrong and harmful”.

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