The claim that the Coalition for Marriage will, arguably, be responsible for schools teaching pupils about same sex marriage, reads like one of those absurd claims along the lines of that gays marrying will lead to children being taught about ‘eating human faeces’. But unlike that ridiculous claim, this time around there is actually some truth.
Many of you will have seen the national press over the last couple of days that if same sex marriage is legalised, then pupils will be required to be taught about it. This ‘discovery’ was made by the Coalition for Marriage, who submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office which established that the Department for Education advised them that this is the case.
The basis for this is that section 403(1A) of the Education Act 1996 states that ‘The Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools—(a)they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children’ (and there is a similar statement in the funding agreement for Academies and Free Schools).
I haven’t seen the Government’s legal argument, but would assume that as section 403 does not specify the type of marriage, it follows that if same sex marriage is legalised, then schools would have to learn the nature of same sex marriage, as well as opposite sex marriage. Any guidance which does not treat the two equally may be open to judicial review under the Equality Act 2010.
But what they haven’t done is gone into the history of this section of the law. Section 403 did not initially contain the subsection quoted above – it was inserted through an amendment in the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
This subsection was proposed by Labour and opposed by the Conservatives. The reason for this was explained during the debate on the Bill by then-Shadow Secretary of State for Education Theresa May, who argued: “The references to sex education and guidance in the Learning and Skills Bill had been introduced only as a compromise, with the specific intention of making it easier to repeal section 28, by making section 28 redundant and making any attempt to retain it perverse.”
Section 28 was, of course, repealed three years later.
So in Theresa May’s eyes, section 403(1A) was only introduced in order to make section 28 easier to repeal. And arguably the reason section 28 was difficult to repeal was due to the campaigning against its repeal by groups such as the Christian Institute and others who, yes, now form the Coalition for Marriage.
So had section 28 been easier to repeal, subsection 403(1A) would never have been introduced, and we would not now be facing the prospect of schools having to teach pupils about the importance of same sex marriage, alongside opposite sex marriage.
Richy Thompson is the Campaigns Officer (Faith Schools and Education) for the British Humanist Association.