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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Section 28: An overview

The government has put on hold plans to repeal Section 28, one of the year's hottest political potatoes, following a second defeat in the House of Lords. What are the key issues?

What is Section 28? A law preventing local councils from promoting or encouraging homosexuality through publications, campaigns or in schools.

It was brought in under Margaret Thatcher in 1988, following tabloid articles about "loony left" councils spending taxpayers' money on gay and lesbian groups.

No local authority has been prosecuted for breaching Section 28, but it has been invoked more than 30 times to prevent projects going ahead.

Why was it on the political agenda? Abolishing Section 28 is seen as a symbolic measure against intolerance.

House of Lords
The issue has bounced between the Commons and the Lords
The government announced it would follow through on its election promise to repeal the law in England and Wales last October, hard on the heels of a similar move in Scotland.

The House of Lords overturned it in February, but the government reintroduced the repeal at committee stage. On Monday, the Lords again voted it down.

What now? Ministers may introduce a one-line bill to repeal the clause in the Queen's speech in the autumn. But chances are the ban will stay in place until the next election's promises are made.

Have there been any changes while ping-ponging about Westminster? Yes. New amendments stated that parents and governors - not local authorities - would be responsible for sex education. A duty was also put on the Secretary of State to ensure sex education at grant-maintained schools was appropriate for the pupils' age and background.

Why the back-down? The move was widely expected, as the government preferred to drop the repeal clause rather than lose other measures, including powers to create elected mayors and structural reforms to councils. Memos leaked in recent weeks also show that Tony Blair et al think the government is seen as soft on family values.

What happened in Scotland? The Scottish Parliament voted in June to repeal Section 28. From the next academic year, education authorities will have more scope to discuss alternative lifestyles.

Yet it was a far from smooth process. Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter rallied the anti-repeal camp, pouring more than 500,000 into a private referendum on the bill. Of the 1.2 million people who cast a ballot in May, 86.6% opted to keep Section 28.

Which groups want it repealed? Gay rights groups such as Stonewall and OutRage!; Gingerbread, a support group for single parents; the Terrance Higgins Trust, an Aids support group; and the Family Planning Association.

The Secondary Heads Association and the National Union of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers object to the new amendments, arguing that it would be inappropriate to put parents and governors in charge of each school's sex education policy.

1999 Pride March
Gay rights campaigners want election promises honoured
Any backlash? In July, Kent County Council banned the promotion of homosexuality in its 600 schools, and Surrey County Council proposes to do the same.

The Daily Mail led the charge against repeal, publishing opinion pieces by anti-repeal politicians, Jewish and Muslim leaders, and campaigners such as Mr Souter.

It also published examples of "disturbing material" prepared for schools.

Such as? In a video produced by a Bristol health authority, a 13-year-old advised pupils to experiment to find which sex they felt more comfortable with.

Manchester City Council funded a homework club for gay teenagers who felt oppressed by homophobia.

Libraries in Haringey, north London, stocked books for children in which the characters had gay parents. A young girl in How Would You Feel If Your Daddy Was Gay? says: "Sometimes it feels kinda weird. But mostly it feels just fine."

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Ministers back down on gay ban
18 Jul 00 | Education
Sex guidelines threat defeated
24 Jun 00 | Scotland
S28 debate - one to remember?
24 Jul 00 | UK
The Section 28 battle
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