A brief history of Section 2A

Neil Munro chronicles the passage of the Bill that led to the repeal of Section 2A, the clause banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

THE ETHICAL Standards in Public Life (Scotland) Bill cleared its final Parliamentary hurdle last week, its passage the vehicle for repealing Section 2A. But the path to and from the statute book has been a tortuous one: September 1999: Jackie Baillie, Deputy Minister for Communities, makes the first public announcement, telling the local government committee of MSPs that the Executive plans to repeal Section 2A ( or "Section 28") of the 1986 Local Government Act once "an appropriate legislative vehicle" is found. Wendy Alexander, the Minister, confirms the move the following month.

December 1999: Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, says it is "opposed to the repeal of Section 28 unless there are detailed guidelines for teachers and local authorities".

January 2000: Brian Souter announces he is bankrolling a "keep the clause" campaign.

Cardinal Thomas Winning declares that homosexuality is a "perversion".

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, makes clear that "we always said guidelines would be introduced".

The SSBA allies itself to the Souter camp in a high-profile "keep the clause" launch.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council condemns Section 2A as "redundant and prejudicial".

Donald Dewar, the First Minister, says sex education guidelines are "sound in tone and comprehensive in cover".

Alan Smith, SSBA treasurer, calls for "statutory safeguards".

The local authorities call for "confidence in our teachers".

Mr Galbraith sets up a working party on sex education guidelines and safeguards for parents.

SSBA agrees to poll its members. David Hutchison, its president, says: "We were never part of the (Keep the Clause) campaign."

The Catholic authorities signal that the issue is not just about the promotion of homosexuality in schools but the assumption that it is "an equally valid moral alternative choice to marriage".

February 2000: The Education Secretary in England announces that marriage and family life will be at the heart of sex education in schools.

Mike McCabe, South Ayrshire's director of education, is appointed chairman of the sex education working party.

Wendy Alexander says there is no need for "separate laws to govern the teaching of every sensitive topic".

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's eduation spokesperson, demands that local authorities be legally bound to abide by sex education guidelines.

Sam Galbraith says: "There will be no statutory curriculum guidelines."

Judith Gillespie of the SPTC suggests that the education Bill was the ideal vehicle to require local authorities to "have regard to" guidance from ministers. But Donald Dewar said he could not envisage "a statutory anchor which avoided statutory guidelines".

The Executive announces that the Ethical Standards (Scotland) Bill, the means of abolishing Section 2A, would require local authorities to promote the value of "stable family life" in a child's development, but opponents continue to insist that marriage should also be included.

March 2000: The Executive's draft circular says schools and local authorities should not prejudge those who do not come from "stable" backgrounds.

The school boards association poll shows only 90 out of 777 boards favour repeal.

April 2000: The first McCabe report says there is no evidence of inappropriate sex education materials being used in schools and that there are "sufficiently wide-ranging and robust" safeguards. John Oates, of the Catholic Education Commission, dissented.

May 2000: The Parliament's education committee rejects a Tory move to assert the "primacy of marriage" in the education Bill.

The committee and the Executive accept the "Gillespie clause" that education authorities should "have regard to" national guidance on sex education, including a statutory requirement to consult parents on sex education.

The Keep the Clause referendum shows that a million Scots oppose repeal.

Wendy Alexander again rejects a legislative reference to marriage on the grounds it would create "a moral hierarchy of relationships".

The Kirk's General Assembly suggests that the Ethical Standards Bill should lay down "the value of marriage, parental commitment and family relationships in a child's development".

June 2000: Ministers accept in full the final McCabe report, which recommends that statutory guidance on sex education should stipulate "the importance of stable family life and relationships, including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage".

MSPs repeal Section 2A, replacing it with Section 26 of the Ethical Standards Bill, which stresses the importance of "stable family life". A Tory bid to include marriage in the Bill as well as in the guidance was defeated by 20 votes to 100.

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