Scots Vote in Private Referendum on Homosexuality Promotion Law

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

London ( - The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has praised a millionaire businessman for sponsoring a mass voter survey on the Scottish government's attempt to let schools portray homosexuality as an acceptable alternative to traditional notions of family.

Specifically, the Scottish government seeks to abolish section 28 (also called clause 28), a law that bans schools from promoting homosexuality as an accepted family relationship.

Cardinal Thomas Winning, known for his forthright views on moral issues, sent a letter of support to Brian Souter, who owns the Stagecoach transport company and heads the "Keep the Clause" campaign.

A campaign spokesman welcomed the move Friday.

Souter is paying for what is believed to be Britain's first privately-funded referendum. He wants to prove to the Labor-led Scottish Executive - which refused to hold an official referendum - that it is out of step with the electorate in wanting to scrap section 28 north of the England-Scotland border.

Winning thanked Souter on behalf of "the silent majority of Scots who have been able to make their voice heard thanks to your intervention."

He added: "Many people have mentioned to me how much they admire your courage in standing up for the traditional marriage-based family and Christian values.

"It must now be clear to the politicians that any repeal of section 28 will be carried out in outright defiance of the will of the people of Scotland," said the cardinal, leader of Scotland's 750,000 Catholics.

Four million Scots have received voting papers for the privately-funded ballot on whether the controversial law should be scrapped or retained.

Voters are asked to return the completed ballot papers in a pre-paid envelopes by May 22, and the results are expected to be announced on May 30. A spokesman for the campaign told it was reported that one million responses already had been received.

In his letter, Winning was critical of the first year of the devolved Scottish government.

"Such a situation is sadly very far from what we all hoped for last year at the birth of the Scottish Parliament. Many of us believed that the new Scotland would be built on the best of our traditions: the family, creativity, humor, openness, hard work and generosity.

"We would never have foreseen that the marriage-based family would be one of the first casualties."

Section 28 was introduced by a former Conservative government in the 1980s. Opponents call it discriminatory, and some say it fosters homophobic bullying in the schools.

Abolishing section 28 was a key election pledge by the Labor Party during its successful 1997 election campaign. The House of Commons is tackling the legislation in England and Wales, while the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh has responsibility for it north of the border.

With the private referendum process still underway, Souter has separately commissioned an interim independent survey by the polling company ICM Research, to gauge Scots' views on the matter.

The poll found that more than 70 percent of Scots feel the Scottish Executive should have held an official referendum on section 28.

And 74 percent of respondents who said they plan to vote in Souter's referendum indicated they wanted to retain the law.

Tom Cassidy, a spokesman for the Keep the Clause campaign, told Friday the poll results supported the campaign's views.

"This government came to power promising to be a listening government. This is a major issue for Scottish parents. The government should have held a referendum."

Cassidy said the campaign was "delighted" to have Winning's endorsement. "Cardinal Winning has been at the forefront [of calls to keep section 28] from the start. He is one of the most outspoken church leaders on this issue."

Asked about criticism that the referendum results will be tainted by the fact it has been financed by someone with such strong partisan views on the matter, Cassidy replied: "Mr. Souter can buy four million envelopes and pay for four million stamps. He can't buy four million replies."

In a bid to boost the legitimacy of the vote, the campaign has taken advice from a major polling company on the wording of the voting paper and an accompanying explanatory note. A former chief executive of an English district council will oversee the security of the count.

Under pressure from critics, a Scottish Parliament education committee has meanwhile supported a proposal to issue legally-binding guidance on the teaching of sex education. Ministers said the move would reassure parents concerned that the abolition of section 28 would result in homosexuality being actively promoted in schools.

Up to now, the Scottish Executive has dismissed Souter's referendum as an irrelevance, with ministers saying only lawmakers' views on the matter would be taken into account.

But there were signs, Cassidy said, that the "logjam may be breaking" - some junior Labor lawmakers are beginning to put pressure on the Executive.

The Scotsman reported Friday that up to 20 Labor members of the Scottish parliament were planning to back an amendment which would go further than ministers are prepared to on the issue of sex education guidance.

The amendment would recognize "the importance of marriage for society and in the raising of children," and be a setback for supporters of repealing section 28 who have opposed wording of that nature.

A revolt from Labor "back-benchers" in Scotland would be the first big split in the party nationally on section 28.

See earlier story:
Scots Face 'Referendum' on Homosexuality Law (Apr 20, 2000)