LONDON—British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing one of the trickiest crises of his administration, thanks to Scotland's feisty Cardinal Thomas Winning.
The Labor prime minister is facing stiff resistance from a number of religious leaders to his plans to scrap a law banning the promotion of homosexuality by town, city and state councils.
Blair, an Anglican who attends Mass with his Catholic wife and children, is torn between two competing ideals. His endorsement of family values has helped him woo moderate “Middle England” voters to the Labor Party, which is also supported by homosexual pressure groups.
The London and Edinburgh parliaments — both dominated by Labor — announced last year their plans to repeal a clause in a law passed by the government of Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s that barred local government from promoting homosexual activity.
Known as Section 28, the proviso was aimed at city and regional administrations, which had begun to spend public funds to champion “homosexual rights,” even placing storybooks in primary schools which showed children living with same-sex couples.
Because Labor had pledged to repeal Section 28, it was not surprising when the issue was brought up for debate.
However, unexpected backlashes quickly erupted in both Scotland and London. “The silent majority will not accept homosexuality as a pretended family relationship,” said Glasgow's Cardinal Winning.
In a statement issued to the Register, he said, “After 50 years as a priest and more than 25 as a bishop I usually feel not a lot will shock me. But in recent days I have been horrified to see some of the literature that will be allowed into our schools if Section 28 is abolished.
“Under the guise of health promotion one authority has suggested that children as young as 13 might like to role play a homosexual “coming out”; others will be asked to imagine themselves as a married man caught having homosexual sex in a public toilet or as a transvestite cabaret artist,” he added.
His call has been backed by massive public support, including one poll that showed 82% of the Scottish people sharing the cardinal's view.
Support has also come from Jewish and Muslim leaders, and even some Anglican bishops who are also contending with an effort in the Church of England to allow practicing homosexuals to be ordained as priests.
England's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs told reporters, “I will never forget as a Jew that homosexuals were sent to Auschwitz just as Jews were. However, the current proposal is based on a fundamental confusion between toleration and moral judgment.”
He added, “There is a real danger that the abolition of Section 28 will lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage.”
Iqbal Sacranie, president of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the policy was in serious conflict with the government's professed pro-family proclamations.
The measure was defeated in the national Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords, but the Blair Government will almost certainly reintroduce it and override the Lord's legal veto.
Blair's spokesman referred the Register to the Prime Minister's comments during a parliamentary debate on Feb. 9 in which he rebutted Conservative opposition leader William Hague during fiery exchanges in the debating chamber.
Hague had challenged him to listen to archbishops, cardinals, the chief rabbi, the Muslim Council, many Labor Members, the chief inspector of schools, and the vast majority of mainstream opinion in the United Kingdom.
But Blair said, “Section 28 has nothing whatever to do with some of the nonsense that we have heard over the past few days. It is intended to ensure that teachers and others are able properly to give children information that they need.”
He claimed that the section does not affect what is currently taught in schools and that teachers and parents should determine sex education policies. Blair said the repeal would stop “homophobic bullying” and “create a more tolerant society.”
Despite the rhetoric, a compromise may eventually be worked out. Blair promised to meet all “interested parties” with a view to introduce safeguards into the law, which he plans to re-introduce.
Blair's spokesman confirmed to the Register that Catholic and other religious groups would be included in the dialogue.
Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.