The president of the Liberal Democrats has said any discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in the religious Westminster internship scheme operated by the charity CARE (Christian Action Research & Education) which he defended this week would be ‘unacceptable’.
A petition launched by Phillip Dawson calling on MPs to distance themselves from the charity’s internship scheme after it funded a ‘gay cure’ conference in 2009 now has nearly 9,000 signatures.
PinkNews.co.uk had asked Mr Farron’s office whether, although Christian interns may not do any lobbying, the scheme is appropriate, following indications it may only have been prepared to give support to straight MPs.
Openly gay Ben Bradshaw MP has recently repeated claims that he was denied a CARE intern because of his homosexuality, which led him to label them “a bunch of homophobic bigots”.
In 2000, he told the Guardian he was questioned by CARE’s then executive director: “They were asking me about my sexual orientation. I was told after that that they were sorry, but the girl would not be working for me.”
Mr Bradshaw repeated the claim on BBC London’s Sunday Politics Programme this month saying there was “absolutely no doubt about it” that he was denied an intern over ten years ago because he was gay.
CARE has not responded to requests for comment from PinkNews.co.uk.
Mr Farron told PinkNews.co.uk: “I cannot comment on the specifics of the situation, but let me make absolutely clear that if there was any question of Care discrimination on the grounds of sexuality then that would be utterly unacceptable.”
Mr Farron also referred to an earlier public statement attributed to CARE which said it was a “well respected training initiative for Christian graduates” which “seeks prospective placements in the best interests of interns without discrimination and irrespective of the policy or theological views of Parliamentarians”.
It also said: “This scheme is an effective outworking of CARE’s Charitable Objects because many of those who have benefited from the training programme go into areas where they make a significant public benefit contribution to society in the UK and around the world.”
The internship programme now “requires and expects” Westminster interns, at least one of whom, Stephen Crabb, has gone on to become an MP, to subscribe to CARE’s Statement of Faith, which includes belief in the “entire trustworthiness and supreme authority” of the Bible.
CARE’s website urges readers to sign the Coalition for Marriage, opposing full equality for gay couples citing a risk of polygamous marriages and “other forms of relationship”, restrictions on freedom of speech and the belief that “clergy may be called upon, against their beliefs and conscience, to perform ceremonies” if gays are given equal rights to marry.
It also lists four actions readers can take to oppose marriage equality: signing the Coalition for Marriage, writing to their MP, visiting their MP in person and prayer.