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‘Bigot’ slip coincides with further same-sex rows

14 September 2012


"Regret": Nick Clegg

"Regret": Nick Clegg

TEACHERS could face disciplinary action, including dismissal, if they fail to endorse same-sex marriage, suggests legal advice published by the pressure group Coalition for Marriage.

The warning came in the week when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, briefly labelled opponents of the Government's same-sex marriage consultation "bigots", and the Green Party expelled a Brighton & Hove councillor for voting against a motion endorsing same-sex marriage.

The Coalition for Marriage reported that a leading EU lawyer, Aidan O'Neill QC, had written: "If gay marriage became law in England and Wales, a school would be within its legal rights to dismiss a teacher if he or she refused to use material in the classroom that endorses gay marriage."

A spokeswoman, Dr Sharon James, said: "Mr O'Neill's expert summary is incontrovertible proof that legalising gay marriage is not only a legislative minefield, but an unparalleled attack on the freedom of conscience Britons have under the law."

Mr Clegg's "bigot" comment was included in an embargoed version of a speech to members of the Equal Marriage Coalition. His office told journalists that Mr Clegg would say: "Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we 'postpone' the equalities agenda in order to deal with 'the things people really care about'. As if pursuing greater equality and fixing the economy simply cannot happen at once."

Ninety minutes later, a revised version was distributed, in which the phrase was substituted "some people". On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Clegg wrote to Dr Williams and the RC Archbishop of Westminster, to express his regret. The early extracts of the speech "were neither written nor approved by me," he wrote. "They do not represent my views, which is why they were subsequently withdrawn."

Mr Clegg said that the Government's consultation on same-sex marriage had produced a record-breaking 228,000 responses: four-and-a-half-times more than the next-biggest response, on high-speed rail. "Not everyone in those 228,000 will be pro, that's for sure. But you certainly can't dispute the strong feeling on both sides," he said. On Wednesday, officials refused to disclose what proportion of the responses favoured same-sex marriage.

On Monday, it was announced that the Green Party had expelled a Brighton & Hove councillor, Christina Summers, for voting against a motion endorsing same-sex marriage (News, 3 August).

A spokesman for the Green Party, Rob Shepherd, said that, as far as the Green Party was concerned, "equality for all people" included an explicit commitment to same-sex marriage. He said that it was "such an important part of Green Party policies. Failure to see this is like a failure to see and recognise other Green Party policies, such as on ecology and climate change." The Green Party said that it was "as welcoming of Christians as it is of any other faith". Its chief executive and national chair are both Christians.

Cllr Summers, who is considering seeking a judicial review, said: "In view of the Green Party's own special interpretation of equality, my expulsion from the Green Group of councillors should not, in the end, come as a surprise."

The Evangelical Alliance's director of advocacy, Dr Dave Landrum, asked whether the Green Party was "inclusive or extremist", and said that the decision to discipline her over the vote showed a "serious lack of thinking about what equality and diversity actually are".

The director of the Christian Legal Centre, Andrea Minichiello Williams, a General Synod member, said: "Cllr Summers's view of marriage as being the union of a man and a woman is consistent with the teachings of mainstream, historic Christianity. Is the door of the Green Party now closed to Christians?"


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