London (CNSNews.com) - Top officials in Britain's Conservative Party gave a mixed reaction Monday to a "coming out" statement by a senior member of parliament.
While several Conservative MPs have made little secret of their sexuality or have made declarations after leaving office, Alan Duncan, the party's spokesman on Middle East affairs, is the first member to acknowledge his homosexuality while still holding a key seat in parliament.
In an interview with The Times , Duncan attacked his own party's informal "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"The trouble is that the Tory view has always been 'we don't mind, but don't say,'" Duncan said. "That does not work any more -- not when you're a politician anyway."
"The only realistic way to behave these days, particularly if you are a politician, is to be absolutely honest and up front, however inconvenient that may be at first," he said. "I hope the taboo is now broken and people can talk about politics, not these sorts of issues."
Duncan said he wasn't worried about being voted out in the country's next general election, which will probably come in 2005. He said his constituents have been "very supportive," and the local party leader in his election district praised the MP's "excellent work."
"His honesty is not an act of confession, it is a refreshing act of initiative and typical of the man," said Kenneth Bool, chairman of the party's Rutland and Melton branch.
"It is simply not an issue, as we believe most people will take a mature view and will not be overly concerned," Bool said.
Duncan received support from the party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and the newly selected chairwoman, Theresa May.
In a letter, Duncan Smith said the revelation wouldn't hurt Duncan's political career.
"I understand how difficult it must have been for you to have made such an open statement about your private life," the leader wrote. "What you have done is honest and will not affect you in any way politically in the future."
But former Tory home affairs spokeswoman Ann Widdecombe -- seen as one of the party's leading traditionalists -- declined to comment directly on the announcement. Widdecombe said the party should concentrate on fighting Tony Blair's Labor government rather than concerning itself with "ideological purity."
"I regard the main battle as showing this country that there are other ways to deliver health, education, law and order, and if we can't do that then we won't be able to win," Widdecombe said.
Conservative leaders denied that Duncan's announcement was linked to what has been called a "modernizing campaign" within the party. May, the first woman to hold the party chairmanship, was named to her new post last week after the demotion of another of the party's social conservatives, David Davis.
The party has opposed changes to Section 28, a law that forbids the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities in Britain. But in January, the Conservatives softened their line on gay unions. While not advocating gay marriage, the party called for homosexual partners to be given some of the legal rights currently held by married couples.
E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.
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