Gay rights – what will you believe: the Tory spin or the Tory voting record?

Bless Nick Herbert: he’s doing his best today to make the claim that the Tories’ attitudes to homosexuality have changed, and that gay people should trust the party. The trouble is Nick has to contend with the reality of the Tories’ voting record – which, as the Lib Dems have pointed out, shows what the Tory party really believes.

The voting records of current Tory MPs who are standing again in 2010 show that:

  • One in six voted against the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 – including David Cameron and a third of the Tory shadow cabinet;
  • One in three voted to allow only heterosexual, married couples to adopt in 2002 including seven members of the Tory shadow cabinet;
  • One in three voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in March 2007 which allows the Secretary of State to make regulations defining discrimination and harassment on grounds of sexual orientation. This included 33 (ie, one third) of frontbenchers, and four members of the Tory shadow cabinet;
  • The Tories opposed The Equality Bill 2008-09. 19 members of the Shadow Cabinet joined attempts to block the bill which will introduce a single ‘public duty’ requiring all publicly-funded bodies to proactively promote equality across the board and remove barriers to fair service provision;
  • Almost one in five voted against the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill in 1999 which aimed to reduce the age at which anal sex was legal from 18 to 16;
  • One in 10 voted against dropping the age of consent for gay men from 21 to 18 in 1994.

The gay rights issue for the Tories is not about whether they would turn back the clock, and try and re-impose Section 28: I don’t for a moment believe they would. To that extent, the Tory party has changed, and that’s a welcome advance on the unpleasantly reactionary attitude they used to adopt.

No, the issue for the Tory party – and those gay people thinking of casting a vote for them – is whether the Tory party will seriously advance equal gay rights if in government. Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems last month laid down the gauntlet by making five specific policy proposals he would like to introduce:

    * 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.

Is it really likely that the Tory party would be prepared to take up the cause of equal gay rights? I doubt it. If even David Cameron, usually a Tory moderate, can be “by turns impressive, mediocre, and worrying” on the issue (according to the Independent’s Johann Hari), what hope is there that the rest of the Tory party – much of which remains socially conservative, even reactionary – will be more forthcoming?

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  • Little known fact – Labour backed Section 28 as did the Liberals (although I think they only backed one particular limb).

  • To be absolutely accurate, in committee when the proposed amendment was raised, there was some support expressed by Labour in the form of Jack Cunningham. That was soon reversed, and certainly there were some very good examples of opposition at local level. But there were certainly voices in both parties who expressed largely homophobic opinions. Having said that, the Tories were far worse with very few being solidly opposed to it from start to finish.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Feb '10 - 12:55pm

    Ought we not to be encouraging schools to teach that just because someone is not “normal” in some way is no reason to bully them? What is “normal” anyway? Does teaching that something is normal and people should not be bullied for it imply there are other things which are abnormal and it’s fine to bully people for those?

    I wonder how may people here have actually been involved in teaching kids. If you go into a later primary or early secondary school class and say “There’s a condition which maybe two or three of you in this class have, it can’t be seen, but it’s completely normal and no-one should be bullied for it” what do you think the consequences will be? They will go round looking at all the other kids in the class saying “Is s/he one?”. They will pick on the smallest most vulnerable one in the class and say “Yes, s/he’s one”. And they will bully the kid for that. The more you tell them not to, the more they will do it.

    Kids are the ultimate conformists, and bullying is the way they get that conformity. It’s about establishing a pecking order, and they’ll pick on whatever they can that is different about someone small or weak to bully them into submission. It may be wearing the wrong brand of clothes, or having the wrong accent, or being interested in something other kids find boring, or whatever. The biggest, toughest and most loud-mouthed kids establish the norm and bully the rest into submission. The bullying hierarchy means those in the middle may be the most assiduous bullies because they are anxious to maintain their position and to impress those at the top by demonstrating their assertive capacity.

    Add to this puberty, in which most kids will be experiencing desires they can’t quite handle or understand, but for most it will be heterosexual, and the biggest and toughest and most loud-mouthed will be most successful in bringing these desires to some sort of physical achievement. It will thus become a prime aspect for bullying.

    Any anti-bullying policy which is not primarily oriented around understanding this is how kids work, is doomed to fail. I fear this insistence on “anti-homophobia bullying policies” is more about pleasing some powerful lobbyists and looking modern in a cost-free manner than on seriously understanding and tackling the real problem.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Feb '10 - 11:13am

    The article in yesterday’s Observer on troubled teenage girls, and a few others in the media recently on similar lines, convince me even more that the “must have anti-homophobia bullying policies” point is wrong, at least in the way it is usually put. It is usually put by gay lobbyists, oriented around the idea that homophobic bullying is mainly aimed at kids who are gay.

    While I’ve no doubt those in this position have a horrible time, and it needs to be dealt with very sensitively, what needs to be said – and generally isn’t by the lobbyists – is that bullying using homophobic terms is part of the hyper-sexualisation of youth, as reported in that Observer article, and is aimed at those who are heterosexual but can’t or won’t join in that hyper-sexualisation. A policy that worked on the basis that any child experiencing homophobic bullying is gay and needs to be counselled as such will be worse than useless. I have found it impossible to get this point of view published in the debate on this issue, I suspect because of the fear that saying this rather than agreeing with the gay lobby is to be “homophobic”.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Feb '10 - 12:05pm

    For me, alarm bells start ringing when I hear a politician saying he would like to “force schools to teach” any point of view. I don’t think you can force faith schools to take a particular line on any question of sexual morality. I don’t think that’s a politician’s job – least of all a liberal politician. And I don’t think it should be made a party political issue in the way the post above implies, any more than people should try to make political capital out of the issue of blood transfusion by gay men (which has been discussed elsewhere).

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