Tom Peterkin: Same-sex marriage lines redrawn

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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It was back in March that equality campaigners predicted that Scotland could see a re-run of the Section 28 stushie that so dominated Scottish political life in the early years of devolution.

Yesterday we began to see early signs of that prediction coming true. The thorny subject of how homosexuality is dealt with in schools was on the agenda when MSPs discussed plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

The discussion did not generate the passion and fury that marked the decision of the then Labour-led administration to repeal Section 28, the legislation which forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality in the classroom.

Nevertheless, there were enough stirrings at yesterday’s meeting of the Equal Opportunities Committee to suggest that this issue is creeping up the agenda once more.

It was last year that the Scottish Government vowed to press ahead with plans to legalise same-sex marriage after overseeing a consultation on the principle of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Now we are in the midst of a second consultation, looking at the fine detail of the bill and its implications in areas such as education.

Inevitably, this has led to old battlelines being redrawn as people with sincerely held, but opposing, views press their case.

Already we have seen those with an implacably traditional view of family life expressing concern that children will be taught that marriage can be between two individuals of the same sex.

Yesterday, Michael Calwell of the Family Education Trust called for a “statutory obligation” to inform parents if their children are to receive any teaching about marriage that may conflict with their view.

Unsurprisingly, such an approach does not sit well with organisations campaigning for equality for homosexuals.

The Equality Network believes that such an approach is unhelpful and such situations are already catered for within existing education guidelines.

In parliament, Ruth Hunt of the gay rights organisation Stonewall, argued that the legacy of Section 28 is still being felt today.

The effect of Section 28 has been that teachers still find it difficult to talk about anything relating to sexual orientation – an unhealthy situation, Hunt argued.

Good teachers, she went on, are clear that they can present their views to children in a respectful way while still teaching the “truth”.

As this Bill progresses the arguments will be passionately made from both sides.

However, if yesterday’s largely respectful session is anything to go by, it does not look likely to descend into the deeply divisive debate in the late 1990s that characterised the abolition of Section 28 and the opposing “Keep the Clause” campaign.