U.K.’s Conservative Leader (& Likely Next PM) Supports Gay Equality
There was a time when Britain’s conservative party was much like it’s American counterpart: harshly denunciatory and punitive toward gays, and prone to justifying its stance on dubious notions such as the claim that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice" that might lead to gays trying to "corrupt children." Indeed, for a quarter-century, a British law--Section 28--made it a criminal offense for schools to "promote" homosexuality or gay and lesbian families--what the law slammed as "pretend families."
But David Cameron, the Tory politician who is viewed by many as the likely next Prime Minister of Britain, has made it his mission to reach out to gay and lesbian voters, reckoning that plenty of gays share his party’s conservative views--at least, the ones that are not flagrantly anti-gay.
But how sincere is Cameron about wanting what his U.S. counterparts would call a "big tent" that includes GLBT constituents? In an interview published in gay magazine Attitude, journalist Johann Hari asked the question, recalling that until its repeal a decade ago, Cameron was an ardent champion of Section 28. Indeed, in the interview with Cameron, which Hari posted at his own site, the journalist put the question directly to Cameron, who told Hari, "I think now looking back you can see the mistake of Section 28," a measure that Cameron called "an insult" and "finger-pointing." Added Cameron, "There’s only one thing worse than making a mistake and that’s not putting your hands up and admitting it."
More than that, Hari was unable to get Cameron to specify. The politician now says he is in favor of equitable rights for gay and lesbian families, including the right to adopt, but as to his past attitudes, Cameron is coy--if not downright evasive--in his comments to Hari.
But Cameron’s new gay-friendly stance, whether authentic or opportunistic, has proven enough to catch the attention of America’s homophobic pundits. Anti-gay religious Web new source LifeSiteNews shrieked in a Feb. 8 headline that Cameron had "Pledge[d] Full Support for Gay Agenda," with a sub-headline keening that the Tory pol had "Agree[d] that the ’right of gay children to have a safe education trumps the right of faith schools to teach that homosexuality is a sin.’ "
In an era where safe schools are a pressing concern due to a combination of school shootings and student suicides as young as 11, not to mention to ongoing threat of AIDS and the manifest failure of morality-themed abstinence-only sex ed, such an opinion might be seen as far from irrational.
The text of the LifeSiteNews article put the headline’s claims into context. "Asked, ’Do you think that the right of gay children to have a safe education trumps the right of faith schools to teach that homosexuality is a sin?’ Cameron, a practicing Anglican replied, ’Basically yes--that’s the short answer to that, without getting into a long religious exegesis. I mean, I think, yes,’ " the article read.
"I mean, I think, yes. I think..... [long pause] that if our Lord Jesus was around today he would very much be backing a strong agenda on equality and equal rights, and not judging people on their sexuality," the article continued to quote Cameron.
"I don’t want to get into an enormous row with the [Anglican] Archbishop [of Canterbury, Rowan Williams] here. But I think the Church [of England] has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through--sorting this issue out and recognizing that full equality is a bottom line full essential," the article reported Cameron saying to Hari.
Church and State
The article also referenced an ongoing debate in the U.K. that pits Christian charities against gays and lesbians. "I think if you are a Catholic prison charity, as long as your services are available to everyone, no matter what their religion, their sexuality, their ethnicity, you’re fine," LifeSiteNews quotes Cameron as saying. "We shouldn’t force you to become a multi-faith group. You can be a single faith group. But you must not discriminate in the provision of your services. It seems to me that is the key distinction that you have to make."
Such controversies have also emerged in the United States, most markedly in an episode in which a Massachusetts Catholic charity that placed children into loving homes for adoption was forced by the Church to suspend all of its adoption placement work when the state refused to allow the charity an exemption to anti-discrimination laws, requiring it to consider qualified same-sex prospective parents along with mixed-gender couples.
LifeSiteNews site culled a response to Cameron’s remarks to Hari about religious charities from the religion editor of U.K. newspaper the Daily Telegraph, Ruth Gledhill, who declared, "From this logic, then, I assume he will force charities for blind people also to offer their services to deaf people. I’ve long thought it discriminatory that, as an able-bodied person, I’m not entitled to a disabled parking permit."
Added Gledhill, "How far is this ludicrous equal rights scenario going to go? Even further down the road to ridiculous extremes under the Tories than it already has under Labor, it seems."
LifeSiteNews noted a similarity between Cameron’s remarks to Hari and answers given to the same journalist by presiding Prime Minister Tony Blair, of the Labor Party, in a 2009 interview, when Blair suggested that the Catholic Church might need to reexamine its stance on gays, their families, and their rights under the law. Church doctrine holds that gays do not choose to experience same-sex attraction, but claims that God’s plan for gays is for them to live solitary lives without the comfort and fulfillment of families, saying that gays are "called" to be celibate.
Church teaching also decrees that gays are sexually "disordered," and says that it is a form of "violence" against children for same-sex parents to raise offspring, whether their own or adopted.
The LifeSiteNews article read, "Blair’s comments were widely ridiculed even in the mainstream press and prompted the current Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, to remind Blair that he does not speak for the Catholic Church."
In the interview with Hari, Cameron touches on a number of gay-specific issues, from the need for the British government to extend asylum to gays fleeing oppressive, even murderous, anti-gay regimes in their home countries (Hari notes that under the current Labor government, asylum seekers are often sent right back despite obvious dangers) to the absurdity of gay men being banned from donating blood, despite technology adequate to the challenge of identifying pathogens such as HIV in donated blood (and the fact that such pathogens can easily be present in blood donated by heterosexuals, who generally face no such discrimination).
However, Hari notes, "on perhaps the two biggest issues affecting gay people in Britain--violence in the playground, and violence on the streets--he doesn’t have much to say." When discussing school bullying, Cameron prescribes broad measures without specifically addressing the causes of anti-gay bullying; one of his suggestions is to fund alternative schools established by parents themselves. Notes Hari, "But the National Secular Society warns that wherever this has been tried, there is a huge rise in religious fundamentalist schools. We know they are far worse for gay kids: the Stonewall study, for example, found that anti-gay bullying is ten percent worse in faith schools."
When it comes to a surge of anti-gay violence in the U.K., which has seen bias crime against GLBTs spike by 40% in a year, Cameron points to an old, if not especially convincing, standby: rap music.
As for Cameron’s ties to European leaders who are publicly and unapologetically homophobic, Cameron essentially tells Hari that such alliances are the cost of doing political business--while going on to note that he himself is not homophobic, and that is the main issue he wishes to clarify. "Now, does that make it a more difficult message to explain to gay people who want to votes Conservative?" Cameron asks Hari rhetorically, going on to answer himself, "Yes it does, I accept that." Adds Cameron, "One of the reasons for doing this interview is hopefully to try and get across a sense that I have not joined with these people because of their views on social issues. I have not."
If the tone of the text that frames Hari’s interview is unconvinced, pundits observing from afar are equally unsure just what to make of Cameron. A Feb 9 National Review Online op-ed opines, "It may be that, on this issue, David Cameron is the P. J. O’Rourke of Britain. (The inimitable P. J. wrote a few years ago: ’I’m so conservative that I approve of San Francisco City Hall marriages, adoption by same-sex couples, and New Hampshire’s recently ordained Episcopal bishop. Gays want to get married, have children, and go to church. Next they’ll be advocating school vouchers, boycotting HBO, and voting Republican.’) But could Cameron perhaps, on this and other issues, be a British Obama - long on promises and short on performance?"
Added the op-ed, "Let’s hope that--if he prevails--he at least has a better first year than our new president had."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.