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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 17:27 GMT
English bishop defends gay ban law

Holding hands The UK government plans to repeal Section 28

The Bishop of Liverpool has joined the controversy in Scotland over Section 28, mounting a strong defence of the law which prevents the promotion of homosexuality.

The intervention by the Right Reverend James Jones is the first by a senior non-Catholic figure in England on the subject.

The bishop strongly defended Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, who has been at the centre of controversy over his opposition to a plan by the Scottish executive to repeal the legislation.

In an article in Monday's Daily Telegraph Bishop Jones called for a national debate south of the border.

As English society becomes more tolerant, it needs to acknowledge that those who give moral and social priority to marriage are not necessarily homophobic
Bishop James Jones
"Cardinal Winning's intervention makes an appeal over the heads of the gatekeepers of political correctness direct to the silent constituency," he wrote.

"What is needed is a debate about the ethics of sexuality and whether there is any moral difference between gay and straight relationships.

"That discussion should happen throughout society, not least in our schools.

"Section 28 does not inhibit such a debate. What it seeks to prevent is the promotion of a gay lifestyle as a moral equivalent to heterosexual marriage."

'Health issues'

Bishop Jones said both Conservative and Labour governments had put the family at the heart of their education policy and that "Section 28 is the logical outworking of that policy in the education system."

"It is, of course, discriminatory," he added. "Yet the setting of all values is a form of choice and discrimination in favour of certain moral principles."

Bishop Jones said English society needed to acknowledge that "those who give moral and social priority to marriage are not necessarily homophobic."

He added: "Although it is uncomfortable to hear it, the debate needs to acknowledge that in the act of gay sex, there are serious health issues."

'School attacks'

But a government spokesman repeated its intention to repeal Section 28.

The Downing Street spokesman said: "Although it doesn't apply to schools, there's evidence that over one third of teachers think it does."

He added: "As a result they feel it prevents them from discussing the issue of homosexuality at school."

And the spokesman pointed out that about 40% of attacks on under-18s which involve homosexuality happen at school.

Section 28
(1) A local authority shall not:
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose treating or preventing the spread of disease.

But Bishop Jones's stance seemed to win guarded support from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

Dr Carey said: "I condemn totally prejudice against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation."

At an inter-denominational service at Westminster's Central Hall, he went on: "But I also resist placing homosexual relationships on an equal footing with marriage as the proper context for sexual intimacy."

On Sunday Cardinal Winning hit back at "misleading" reports of his speech in Malta in which he described homosexual relationships as a "perversion".

Scottish ministers are expected to work on drawing up guidelines to reassure parents worried about the proposed scrapping of Section 28, ahead of the thorny subject being debated later this year in the Scottish Parliament.

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See also:
23 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Winning says sorry to gays
22 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Dewar refuses showdown with Souter
21 Jan 00 |  Scotland
'Little support' for gay rule repeal
20 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Minister's new Section 28 promise
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: Church leaders
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: A parent's view
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: Education Minister Sam Galbraith
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: A gay man's view
19 Jan 00 |  Scotland
PR firm hit by Section 28 'hoax'
20 Jan 00 |  Scotland
When gay became a four-letter word

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