This week’s shocking U-turn by the Labour Government, to allow religious schools to put their own slant on sex and relationship education, will let down thousands of teenagers (and younger children) across the country. Ed Balls’ amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill will almost certainly lead to state-funded religious schools teaching that contraception is immoral and that having a gay relationship is wrong.
At the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference last year, I summated the Calderdale motion on faith schools. I made the point that someone growing up lgbt in a religious school will have a much harder time when teachers are allowed to say that a relationship with someone of the same sex is wrong. Also, some religions are against contraception. With 21st Century Britain having such a high teenage pregnancy rate, and many developing countries struggling with overpopulation, I believe that such a position is indefensible.
Speaking on the amendment was an interesting experience as I had to persuade a couple of thousand Liberal Democrats to vote against Vince Cable, who had spoken against our amendment. The end result was – as it so often is – a compromise. The resulting Liberal Democrat policy is that faith schools can continue to exist, but must demonstrate the diversity of their intake, ie. not just fill up with children of one religion. I believe very strongly that growing up with people who are of different religions, races, and sexualities, is essential to overcome prejudice, which is caused by the fear of the unknown.
The Accord Coalition, made up of people from many religions and none, has strongly criticised Ed Balls’ amendment, drawing parallels with the infamous Section 28. It is shocking that a Labour Government, who scrapped Section 28 and introduced civil partnerships, is taking such a backward step on lgbt issues. Equally worrying is the fact that youngsters across the country may not be properly taught about contraception, potentially leading to STDs and hundreds of unwanted pregnancies. Whilst I respect the right of any religion to have its own views, children in state-funded schools need to be taught the basic facts of life in an unbiased way.
It is clear that the once-radical Labour Party have given up any hope of improving things for lgbt youngsters. The Tories have always been hopeless, so it is now left to the Liberal Democrats – with our promise of full marriage between any two consenting adults regardless of gender, and our sensible policies on faith schools – to carry the lgbt flame.