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EDITIONS
Monday, 9 December, 2002, 17:36 GMT
Gay Tories to get 'official recognition'
Gay couple
The move is seen as part of "compassionate Conservatism"
Gay Conservatives are hailing a decision to give them formal recognition as a special group affiliated to the party.

James Davenport, the chairman of Torch - which used to be the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality - said the move by the Conservative board was "good news for the gay community".


Gaining special group status is important to us because we want to be an organisation within the party

James Davenport
It will be seen as a victory for Tory modernisers, who have made the case for the scrapping of Section 28, the law banning local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

The move also follows Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's quest for a more tolerant and "compassionate Conservatism", a cause he outlined at the party's annual conference.

This agenda suffered a backlash in November when John Bercow resigned from the shadow cabinet in protest at the party's opposition to allowing unmarried couples - heterosexual and gay - to adopt children.

Special status

But in a signal that the modernising agenda is winning ground, shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin is to be guest of honour at Torch's gala dinner in central London on Tuesday.

The group's application to affiliate to the Conservative Party was passed unanimously by the board, but will not be formally announced until the New Year, a party spokesman confirmed.

Torch chairman James Davenport told The Times: "There is no official link at the moment between Torch and the Conservative Party, even though we are an organisation of party members.

Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin will be a guest of honour at Torch's gala dinner
"But gaining special group status is important to us because we want to be an organisation within the party, advising the party and helping to formulate the right policies from the inside.

"We can help the party a lot more if we are inside than if we are a loosely associated organisation on the outside. That can only be good news for the Conservative Party and for the gay community."

Section 28

At its AGM on 8 September 2002, Torch members unanimously approved a new constitution allowing the application to proceed.

Mr Davenport told the paper that he wanted his group to be at the centre of discussions about Section 28.

"We are starting from the position that Iain Duncan Smith was elected leader of the Conservative Party promising to review Section 28.

"He has said for both those who strongly support it and those who strongly oppose it that it has become something of a totem and effectively it will be abolished on the grounds it is a waste of paper.

"Councils no longer have day-to-day control over schools, so it no longer affects schools. It really is an irrelevant piece of legislation and sends out the wrong messages.

"We would like to see Section 28 replaced entirely or replaced with legislation which prohibits councils dealing with issues of sexuality at all.

"We do not think councils are there to promote homosexuality or heterosexuality - they are actually there to empty your bins or fix your street lighting."

Gay rights

Mr Duncan Smith met up with Torch earlier this year.

After the meeting, Mr Davenport said: "Iain believes it is for the individual to decide how to run their own lives, and not for the government to try and live it for them.

"This is at the heart of his vision of Conservatism, and is absolutely in line with our policy recommendations for the gay community."

Last week plans to grant gay and lesbian partners many of the same rights as married couples were broadly welcomed by MPs from all parties.

But there was opposition from religious groups, with one describing the idea as "very wrong".

Barbara Roche, the Minister for Social Exclusion and Equalities, says there is a strong case for allowing same-sex couples to register their relationships.

Co-habiting couples do not currently receive the same tax breaks or entitlements that married couples enjoy, including access to a partner's pension.

Civil partnerships could give homosexual couples property and inheritance rights for the first time.

The plans would apply to England and Wales, with the Scottish Executive saying it would examine the proposals, though it has no current plans for similar steps.

See also:

06 Dec 02 | Politics
15 Feb 02 | UK
08 Oct 02 | Politics
06 Dec 02 | Politics
05 Sep 02 | UK
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