Page 7, 24th March 2000

24th March 2000
Page 7
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But will the new amendment actually solve the problem?

LAST WEEK, Archbishop-elect Vincent Nichols (on behalf of the Catholic Education Service) and Bishop Alan Chesters (on behalf of the Church of England Board of Education) issued a guarded welcome to a proposed government amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill. Perhaps predictably, this was seen by some observers as a retreat from the Churches' opposition to the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act, with its prohibition of the promotion in schools of homosexuality as a "pretended family relationship".

The problem is article 2(b) of the amendment, which enjoins that pupils should "learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society". This will have the effect, according to The Daily Telegraph, of giving " legal force to the notion that a long-term relationship between homosexual lovers is morally equvalent to marriage." The bishops' statement anticipated this difficulty, however, arguing that though "reference is made to stable relationships" this is not "in the context of bringing up children" and that "this distinction, together with the definition of marriage enshrined in English law, effectively negates assertions of the moral equivalence of marriage with other forms of relationship, particularly in bringing up children".

The difficulty with this defence is that we need to ask precisely why marriage is thought of as a social "building block": for, far above all others, the most important function of marriage for society is that it is the most stable setting for the nurture of children: to say that "stable relationships", also, are "building blocks" seems to imply that they too (whether homosexual or not) are a suitable context within which to bring up children. Certainly, we know that this is the view of an important faction within the Cabinet; it is surely not unreasonable to deduce that this article deliberately deploys the kind of skilful ambiguity which is one of the most habitual recourses of the present government.

Tins is NOT to say that the amendment, on balance, is not an advance on Section 28, particularly since (in England and Wales) the existing law refers not to schools but to local authorities, who now have no responsibility for what is actually taught. Section 28 is, therefore, in any case a dead letter. It was worth having, since at least it enshrined a principle worth defending. But section 2(a) of the proposed amendment is on the face of it an advance on a law which no longer applies: for the first time since the present government completed what the Tories began by abolishing the married couple's tax allowance, the law will acknowledge the special place of inarriage. Pupils, it says, should "learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children".

This will be given statutory force: the real question now must be, however, whether it will be any more rigorously applied than Section 28 was. For, though the battle to preserve it was, rightly, hard fought, its achievements were limited. Certainly, it succeeded in excluding from the classrooms certain high-profile texts such as the notorious Jenny lives with Eric and Martin. But much other highly dubious material has been widely in use in school sex education classes for some time now, material in which the subversion of the traditional family based on marriage is unremitting.

One primary school "Sex Education Pack" now in use in schools in the North-East advises teachers how to sidestep any nonsense from the authorities about traditional family values.

"It is important", insists its author,"not to have a narrow view of what family life may entail..." This may include, he says, "single parent families, parents who have non-monogamous relationships, lesbian, gay or bisexual parents... etc". Not surprisingly, this syllabus is opposed to any moral content in sex education, and disapproves of the right of parents to withdraw their children from it. Its aim is to "explore a range of sexual attitudes... and help children to reach their own, informed opinions". He recommends teachers, if asked, to give details about how to perform anal intercourse. All this is to children, remember, between the ages of four and II. CAN IT REALLY BE TRUE that it is appropriate for children of this age (indeed of any age) to be exploring "a range of sexual attitudes"? Can it be right that they should he actively encouraged to indulge in lurid sexual fantasies? Both these are, for instance, the clear aim of a "sexual activity word puzzle" to be found in the widely used Primary School Workbook, published by the Family Planning Association (FPA), and actively defended by the then Education Minister, Estelle Morris. Children are asked to look for the following words in the following order: stroke; massage; cuddle; sexual intercourse; gay; hug; sex; kiss; lick; heterosexual; whisper; talk; laugh; touch; lesbian".

The message is constantly driven home: all forms of sexual activity are equally valuable and equally valid. In one syllabus, teachers are drawn into the conspiracy, and advised how to cope with any possible opposition from such impertinent sources as parents or the Press.

"Wc. all haven !sexual career', this syllabus tells teachers, "and for many people this will include homosexual experiences at some time in their lives". It is all designed to remove any inhibitions or moral resistance on the part of children, any inherited sense that though there is no excuse for personal intolerance towards homosexuals, it is in every way preferable for children to grow up as part of the mainstream. All this is part of what is already being taught in primary schools. Much of it continues to enjoy explicit government support.

to the new amendment than they did to Section 28? That is the real question now. The question is not whether the amendment will protect children as well as the existing law but whether it will do anything to improve matters. There is considerable room for doubt whether this government has any more real intention of doing so than the last one did.

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