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

by Stephen Tall on February 17, 2010

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?