Conjugal fights

17th August 2012 at 01:00
Will new laws on same-sex marriage bring trouble and strife to Scotland's classrooms?

Scotland is on the verge of becoming the first home nation in the UK to legalise same-sex marriage. But the classroom is already emerging as the battleground on which the two sides of the argument will fight their cause.

The legalisation of gay marriage will make it impossible for Catholic teachers to teach according to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, claims the Catholic Education Commission. It argues that teachers in all schools, who believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman, blessed by God and sanctified in a church, will be placed in "an invidious position".

In a similar vein, the religious organisation Bible Families has said schools will "inevitably have to teach that homosexuality is normal" if same-sex marriage is permitted - a view that is "totally unacceptable to those of us who stand by a clear teaching of Scripture", it said.

The Christian Institute, meanwhile, is delivering leaflets throughout Scotland that ask: "Do you want primary schoolchildren to be taught that two men can marry each other?"

The Muslim community can be expected to have similar concerns, given that the Muslim Council for Britain has already said the institution of the family will be undermined if gay marriage is legalised. "Islam does not condone homosexual behaviour in any shape or form," it said.

But the LGBT equality charity Stonewall Scotland makes the counter- argument that no teacher will be required to teach anything in relation to same-sex marriage that heshe is not already required to teach. These organisations are "scaremongering", said its director, Colin Macfarlane.

The Scottish government has nonetheless promised to protect religious freedom - including in educational settings - following its decision last month to legislate for same-sex marriage.

Already it has pledged to ensure individual religious celebrants will be able to opt out of conducting same-sex marriages. Now, a consultation, which is currently under way, will include consideration of any provision that may be required to "protect the religious beliefs of teachers and parents in school", said the government.

Any opt-out for teachers will be opposed by Stonewall Scotland, said Mr Macfarlane. This would be a "backwards step", he warned.

But it is one the Catholic Education Commission is intent on making the case for, said chairman James McVittie, although its main concern is how the proposed legislation would mesh with the legislation on equality.

"What we are afraid of is that equalities legislation could take away the right of the Church to promote its view of marriage without fear of being prosecuted," he said.

The commission will issue guidance to Catholic schools about how best to deal with the issue of gay marriage sensitively, Mr McVittie added.

"We will continue to promote the Church's teaching on marriage, but having been a teacher for 40 years and a headteacher for 30 I would anticipate that even if a teacher were to try to avoid the issue (of gay marriage), a pupil is likely to raise it. We have to offer guidance to teachers about how to deal with that in a sensitive way."

The commission, which has been promised a meeting with education secretary Michael Russell, is also likely to take up the cause of teachers in non- denominational schools who "for reasons of conscience" could not promote a new definition of marriage as equal to the traditional definition.

This, however, is where Mr Macfarlane drew the line. "We would not want to see any kind of opt-out for teachers around discussing same-sex relationships. We do not want anything that diminishes the rights we have at the moment in schools where we firmly believe same-sex relationships should be discussed so that young people feel safe in school and part of the school community," he said.

"Our recent report (into the experiences of gay young people in schools) clearly shows there is something lacking in Scottish schools. LGBT youngsters have to run a daily gauntlet of terror and our teachers don't have the confidence to discuss same-sex issues."

More than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying and one in four attempts or thinks about suicide, the Stonewall Scotland research found. Less than a third (31 per cent) said that their school responded quickly to homophobic bullying behaviour.

Every school should mention LGBT in its anti-bullying strategy, but few do, Mr Macfarlane said.

Stonewall runs an Education Champions programme, providing bespoke support and guidance to council education departments on how to tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying. But only four councils - East Lothian, West Lothian, Fife and South Ayrshire - are signed up to it. And the charity's School Champions programme has attracted just 11 primaries and secondaries.

One barrier to participation is money, Mr Macfarlane said, but he thinks ignorance is also a factor.

"Sometimes people don't know it's happening or they think they don't have any LGBT pupils in their school. Or they think comments like `you're so gay' are just banter. Hopefully, the school report will show that, with hundreds or perhaps thousands of pupils suffering some form of homophobic bullying, we have to sort this out."

Drama teacher John Naples-Campbell tried to take his own life when he was a pupil at school because of homophobic bullying. He was a secondary teacher until last year when he began working in further education (see case study, right).

More money needs to be invested in giving teachers the confidence to talk openly about sexuality with pupils, he said.

"After Section 28 was repealed, teachers were not trained how to talk about these issues and I think most therefore behave as if it is still in place, either because that's how things were when they were at school, or when they trained," he said.

A lack of teacher confidence is frequently cited as a barrier to effective sex education. Research by Health Scotland into sex and relationship education (SRE) in primaries, published in 2010, found that over half of local authorities (18) referred to "low levels of teacher confidence" and "a widespread need for staff training". Further, one quarter of primaries surveyed said they had no SRE-trained staff and in over half of the schools (52 per cent) the staff delivering SRE were not trained.

Researchers asked schools to list two topics they felt were inappropriate to cover with children at primary: gay relationships was one of the most frequent responses.

One local authority, meanwhile, reported that homosexuality would not be raised in its primary schools.

The Scottish school system made it "compulsory" to be heterosexual, concluded Elizabeth McIntyre, an educational psychologist in Dumfries and Galloway, after she researched the issue in 2010.

All pupils were treated alike, which meant schools failed to respond to the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, she said in a research article published in the journal Educational Psychology in Practice.

Feelings of anxiety were most apparent in male primary teachers, she found. One admitted he ignored his pupils' use of the word "gay" when they meant something or someone was "rubbish" and failed to deal with homophobic bullying.

He said: "A male teacher with 10-year-olds talking about homosexuality? I couldn't take the risk."

There is no explicit guidance for schools about what age and stage it is appropriate to teach pupils about gay relationships, said the Scottish government. However, under Curriculum for Excellence health and well-being experiences and outcomes, by the end of P7 pupils are expected to "understand that a wide range of different kinds of friendships and relationships exist" (CfE second level) and they should understand the different contexts for sexual relationships "including marriage" over the course of S1-3 (CfE third and fourth levels).

Over the past decade, there has been a major shift in attitudes towards same-sex relationships. The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey shows that 10 years ago, nearly half (48 per cent) of people in Scotland thought that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were "always" or "mostly wrong"; by 2010, that figure had dropped to just over a quarter (27 per cent), with half of respondents believing there is nothing wrong with such relationships (see table, page 12). Much of this shift in attitudes has occurred since the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005, says the SSA 2010 report.

Young people are least likely to be offended by same-sex relationships, the SSA shows. In 2010, just 13 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds thought same-sex relationships were "always" or "mostly wrong", compared with 19 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds and 46 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

On the back of the SSA findings, Professor John Curtice, co-director of the survey, issued what he described as "stark advice" to the government last year on legalising gay marriage.

He said: "There probably isn't much reason you shouldn't act already, given the state of public opinion, but in the not too distant future you won't have an excuse at all."

Like the SSA researchers, the Scottish Youth Parliament found a similarly relaxed attitude to same-sex relationships among young people when it surveyed over 40,000 of them in 2010; 74 per cent agreed with the statement "all laws regarding homosexual relationships, whether male or female, should be equal to those of heterosexual relationships".

This earned equal marriage a place at the heart of SYP's manifesto, Change the Picture. MSYPs then voted to make it the single national campaign the SYP should pursue. From 49 statements contained within Change the Picture, covering causes such as a national guarantee of work experience and an end to nuclear weapons in Scotland, marriage equality emerged as the clear winner.

This resulted in the launch of SYP's Love Equally campaign a year ago.

In its response to the government's consultation on same-sex marriage, the Scottish Youth Parliament wrote: "During a time of high youth unemployment and a period where young people have been disproportionately affected by the current economic climate and cuts to youth services are savage and biting, it is enormously telling that Scotland's young people feel that the issue most in need of urgent redress is the segregation in the law on human relationships."

It would seem, therefore, that even if some teachers are not ready for gay marriage they can rest assured that most of their pupils are.


There is no statutory requirement in Scotland for schools to teach sex education.

In 2001, following the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which abolished the bar on the promotion of homosexuality in schools, the Scottish Executive published a circular on sex education that encouraged all schools to provide sex education within a comprehensive programme of personal, social and health education and religious and moral education.

Under Curriculum for Excellence, health and well-being is one of its central tenets, covering relationships, sexual health and parenthood. However, the content of sex and relationship education programmes will vary between local authorities and schools and there are no specific guidelines on the age and stage at which pupils should learn about homosexual relationships.

Catholic schools have produced their own sex education teaching materials, Called to Love, which promote the value of abstinence. Sexual orientation, physical attraction and different types of relationship are explored from S2 onwards, said the chairman of the Catholic Education Commission, James McVittie.

"In the course there is formal exploration of issues to do with sexuality," he said. "This is not just left to chance. There would be no condemnation - what would be given is a statement of the Church's teaching."

Catholic teachers grappling with questions such as "same-sex love: right or wrong?" can access online support via the Called to Love website. Marriage between a man and a woman is the only morally acceptable context for sexual acts, it states.

The Catholic Church's catechism 2537 is quoted: "Tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."


The number of couples opting to form civil partnerships has grown by almost a fifth in just one year in Scotland. And across the UK the popularity of civil partnerships, introduced in 2005, has far outstripped official expectations, with figures showing five times as many couples have made the commitment than originally forecast.

The latest figures, published in July by the Office for National Statistics, show the number of couples entering civil partnerships in Britain rose by 6 per cent last year to 6,795. Altogether, 106,834 people were in civil partnerships by the end of 2011. An impact assessment carried out in 2004, before civil partnerships became legal, suggested that by 2010 between 11,000 and 22,000 people would be in civil partnerships.

In Scotland, the number of civil partnerships rose by 19.1 per cent last year, from 465 couples making the commitment in 2010 to 554 in 2011.

In England, the number of couples tying the knot grew by a comparatively small 6.6 per cent, with civil partnership formations falling in Northern Ireland and Wales.


On his first day as a qualified teacher John Naples-Campbell, 31, was called a "poof" by a pupil; when he went to phone the senior management team the pupil pulled the phone out of the wall and threw it at him.

The incident did not change his mind about being open about his sexuality and he remained at the Dumfries and Galloway school for two years before moving to Knox Academy in Haddington and then taking up his current post as a lecturer in acting and theatre performance at Telford College in Edinburgh last November.

"I came out when I was at high school in 1997 when I was in S5," he said. "From that moment on I've never hidden it."

By being open about his sexuality Mr Naples-Campbell hopes to be the role model he never had as a youngster. He was bullied throughout his high school years, missing a month of school in S4 because of the harassment. The problem was only effectively tackled when he tried to take his own life, aged 16, in the Easter holidays ahead of sitting his Highers.

As far as Mr Naples-Campbell is aware, his sexuality has never been a cause of concern for parents and he has found pupils generally accepting. Colleagues, however, have sometimes disagreed with his decision to be honest about his sexuality. "Some did not think it was right that I should be out and others, from a Christian point of view, did not like the idea that I might be influencing young people. Some of the thinking was from the Stone Age."

More money needs to be invested in giving teachers the confidence to talk openly about sexuality with pupils, he said.

"After Section 28 was repealed, teachers were not trained in how to talk about these issues and I think most behave as if it is still in place, either because that's how things were when they were at school, or when they trained."

No teacher should be able to opt out of teaching about gay marriage, if it is legalised, he argued.

"We are teachers and we are there to teach children about the world in which they live. If we are hiding aspects of that world from them, that's just wrong."

Many of his former school colleagues were gay but he was the only one not to hide it, he says. And of all his friends in the profession who are gay, he is the only one that is out.

"Some of them want to protect their privacy and others are too ashamed," he said.

Original headline: Plan to legalise gay marriage in Scotland creates a divide

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