Will teachers be forced to promote gay marriage?

Have a guess.

Barely a day seems to go by without another unpleasant and disingenuous attempt to deny same-sex couples the same right to have their relationship recognised as is enjoyed by heterosexuals. I usually think it’s best not to dignify them with a response, but the Torygraph’s latest report that teachers could be forced to promote gay marriage or face the sack caught my attention.

It seems that the story comes from a legal opinion provided by Aidan O’Neill QC to the Catholic Church in Scotland, having been commissioned by either (depending on the report) the church themselves or our old friends the Coalition for Marriage. This immediately makes me suspicious that it’s rather less than objective, but let’s look at the facts.

First, notice the article’s efforts to paint a picture with creative and rather cunning juxtaposition of unconnected statements. Take this example:

Aidan O’Neill QC has provided the Catholic Church with a legal opinion stating that equality laws mean teachers will be forced to emphasise the validity of same-sex marriages.

Mothers and fathers with “traditional and often religiously-based views” will be “hard pressed” to insist that their offspring are educated in line with their convictions, he said.

The Catholic Church in Scotland, which commissioned the opinion, said it raised the prospect of classrooms being “flooded” with teaching materials promoting gay marriage.

Notice that a mild opinion that teachers would be expected to recognise same-sex marriages as legally valid (because in this hypothetical case, they would be by definition) moves into a superficially similar statement about children being educated in line with parents’ convictions, and is finally topped off with an alarmist prediction with no legal or factual standing, in the form of the opinion of a church representative. The last paragraph obviously stands out, but the first and second are just as unconnected.

Apparently, just letting children see this picture promotes gay marriage.

By a neat sleight of hand, the report attempts to suggest that children will be indoctrinated with homosexual propaganda (whatever that is), when the reality is far more prosaic. Broken down by paragraph, the quoted passage says that if same-sex marriage is legal, teachers (and I’d hope everyone else) would be expected to accept and acknowledge that fact; that you’re unlikely to get the state to teach everything in accordance with your personal whims; and that all-male institutions are quite capable of being hysterical.

Once you look at what’s being said, rather than what’s being implied and spun, the story’s very different.

Having established that there was a lot of spin but very little substance to the claims, I went looking for O’Neill’s actual opinion. I haven’t found it, and to be fair, the people who commissioned it are free to do what they want with it, but I did find a document which claims to summarise the opinion. Again, the source is somewhat partial, so caution is advisable, especially as it’s only a summary, but I found it quite revealing. On a number of points, the concerns are obviously either baseless or trivial when clearly stated.

The summary suggests that a teacher could be sacked for refusing to use a storybook dealing with gay marriage – quite right too. Use of such a book does not require a teacher to personally approve of every relationship in the book, or the teaching of English Literature would be a farce.

Similarly, the opinion states that parents could not insist on withdrawing their child from lessons on the history of gay marriage – again, why should they? Pacifist parents couldn’t expect to withdraw their child from any history lessons dealing with war (which, in all honesty, would be just about all of them). Interestingly, this section contains a very similar statement to the “hard-pressed” one quoted above.

Foster couples and marriage registrars, we’re told, could both be discriminated against if they oppose gay marriage, which is interesting. I thought they were trying to promote the narrative that both foster couples and registrars already were. The arguments advanced are nonsense for the same reasons as why the Johns and Lilian Ladele weren’t being persecuted.

Most bizarrely, the opinion expresses fears that it will be compulsory to learn about gay marriage in sex education classes. This is not only entirely uncontroversial unless you can’t tell the difference between learning about something and being forced to approve and participate in it, but children can be withdrawn from sex education classes by their parents.

I lack the time and expertise to thoroughly debunk every point. I strongly suspect, for example, that the risk of a church being refused council facilities because of its beliefs would be just as great now as in the hypothetical world where same-sex marriage was legal. And the arguments around the church’s freedom and establishment are fairly complex, but have already been dissected in some detail and found wanting.

This is a good example of news creation – on this evidence, to claim that anyone would be forced to “promote” gay marriage is only remotely plausible if you have no idea what the word means. But campaigners and kneejerk reactionaries have conspired to spin the story in just that way. Only when you carefully examine the facts do the claims melt away.

Don’t be taken in.

Photo by mensatic, used under morgueFile License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

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