Nick Clegg has called for action on a number of LGBT issues, including a reform of Britain’s surrogacy laws, and the controversial practice of “gay conversion” therapy.
In a Q&A with PinkNews readers, Nick Clegg has called for reform of Britain’s surrogacy laws, for humanist weddings to be made legal, for Gender X passports to be introduced, for action against “gay cure” therapy and has spoken of his hopes for the Church of England to change its attitude on gay rights.
Read Mr Clegg’s answers below
Q – Barry Atkinson and John – Pensions: We are a same-sex couple. My husband and I married on December 10th 2014, and as we had our Civil Ceremony on November 8th 2008, the latter was deemed to be the date of our marriage.
As I am in my early 70s I am concerned that my teacher’s pension and other smaller pensions I hold (including my “old age pension”) will not be passed on to my younger husband in the event of my dying before him. I am aware that the monies due to him are not equal to those inherited by a same-sex couple, and so will you let me know just what progress is being made?
A – First, a big congratulations to you both on your marriage. I am so proud that same sex marriage is now law. This legislation has brought so much personal joy to individual couples and their families – and makes our whole society stronger and fairer, too.
You are right that there are still some loose ends to tie up to ensure full marriage equality. As a basic principle we need to make sure that, in the eyes of the law, one married couple is the same as any other. Pensions are a complex area – but this is something the next government must look at.
Q- Julia G – Gay parenting support: A YouGov poll for PinkNews recently found that only 52% of people in the UK support gay men becoming parents using surrogacy or adoption – what will you do to help people be more supportive of gay parenting, especially given the shortage of adoptive parents.
A- We should celebrate the huge shift in public opinion on LGBT equality over the last twenty years. In a relatively short space of time the British public has become dramatically more liberal, more tolerant and more compassionate in their views of LGBT people. It is wonderful that so many gay and lesbian couples are choosing to become parents – but this is still a relatively new phenomenon and it will take public opinion a little while to catch up.
The course of history shows that attitudes will change – but there are concrete steps that politicians can take to nudge people along. We’ve already done the most important one – which is legislate for same sex marriage. I’d like to pardon those with historic convictions for consenting homosexual activity that wouldn’t be a crime today – sending a very powerful signal about how society’s values have been transformed. We need to continue our efforts to tackle homophobic bullying in schools – including bullying of a child who has gay parents. And I think the next government should look across public services and make sure that they are sensitive to the needs of LGBT families.
Q- Brian Smith – Surrogacy: What are your views on the legalisation of surrogacy for gay couples? The UK doesn’t seem to have a cogent law on this. And it’s a lot safer being pregnant for nine months than being a farmer for nine months. It seems to me it should be legalised and regulated.
A- Families come in all different shapes and sizes – and there will almost certainly be more and more gay couples considering adoption or surrogacy in the future. It’s great that so many gay couples are looking to start a family, and government should support these couples as much as possible. I agree this is an area that needs further investigation. We should be learning from the experience of couples who have used surrogacy, and looking at how full legalisation has worked in places like California.
Q- Jessica Coal – Gender recognition: The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is over ten years old now. Would the Lib Dems pledge to support a full review of the Act, with a view to bringing the UK in line with the recent Statement on Identity Recognition issued by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)?
A- There is a lot more we need to do to improve the lives of transgender people. The community is becoming more and more visible and confident – the Trans Pride event in Brighton this year was a great example of that – but there are still too many transgender people who are marginalised and victims of real prejudice.
We therefore do support changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Liberal Democrats would end the “spousal veto” and allow couples where one partner has transitioned to reinstate their marriages. We would also allow ‘X’ (unspecified) gender markers on UK passports – it is not for the state to force people into an identity they do not want or recognise.
Q- Bishop of Buckingham – Church of England quadruple lock: The legislation around equal marriage contained important protections for the consciences of clergy opposed to marrying gay people. However, it contained no protection for the consciences of clergy who want to perform same-sex weddings – or indeed gay clergy who want to marry themselves. These clergy have routinely been subject to harassment and victimisation – and this even led in one instance to an Archbishop blocking someone from a promotion within the NHS. Many other licensed clergy are now in fear of their position in public service jobs in which they had felt safe. What plans do our politicians have to remedy this manifest injustice?
A- I have huge admiration for the many, many people in the Church who see no contradiction between their deeply held Christian beliefs and the principle that everyone should be able to marry the person they love. It’s amazing how quickly equal marriage has been accepted by much of the country – so much of the opposition simply fizzled out once people saw the happiness of individual couples on their wedding day.
Of course there are still examples of some pretty ugly discrimination. As a liberal, I want to see intolerance challenged wherever it is found: and discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of someone’s sexual orientation is, quite rightly, illegal.
The Church will have its own internal debates about equal marriage – and while it’s not my place to tell the Church what they can or cannot do, my hope is that tolerance will eventually win the day.
Q- Lord (Guy) Black of Brentwood – Reparative therapy: It’s concerning that in 2015 there’s still a belief, held by some, that gay people can be “cured”. Do you think it’s now time to bring forward legislation to ban “reparative therapy” for gay people, and would you do so?
It is grossly offensive to me that anyone could think gay people need to be “cured”. If anything needs curing, it is the outdated belief that being gay is wrong or something to be ashamed of. Sexuality is not an illness but an inherent part of who you are.
A- Most people now recognise conversion therapy as dangerous nonsense, but we do need to challenge any remaining counsellors who believe they can “treat” homosexuality. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Health Minister, helped bring together leading organisations across the NHS, medical and psychological professions to sign up to a new Memorandum of Understanding. This made clear that conversion therapy is unethical, potentially harmful and cannot be provided within the NHS. I wouldn’t rule out further action if necessary.
Q- John Mundy – Overseas aid: Is it right for the UK to give overseas aid to homophobic countries? Is it right for the UK to trade with homophobic countries? Would we do either with racist countries?
A- By changing our own law on marriage we have sent a powerful message to the rest of the world – but there is a lot more that can be done to promote LGBT rights internationally.
Much UK aid is not given to governments but funneled directly to local groups on the ground. For example, British aid money has been used to train LGBT campaigners in legal advocacy, in journalism and in forms of campaigning. Cutting off this money would not be punishing homophobic governments, but punishing exactly the LGBT campaigners we’re trying to support.
Q- Denise Hart – Coalition with the DUP: Would you enter into a Coalition with the DUP given their shocking history on LGBT rights, and their current backing of the Conscience Clause – which a member of their own party is trying to bring into law in Northern Ireland?
A- Like UKIP and some right wing Conservatives, the DUP harbour some seriously unpleasant views on homosexuality. But the best way to ensure the next government takes LGBT rights seriously is to maximise Liberal Democrat influence by electing as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible. That will be my priority until May 7th.
Q- June from Bedford – Sex and Relationships Education (SRE): Why do you blame the Conservatives for blocking statutory sex education? You claim the Tories are standing in the way of progress – but your own party’s MPs have repeatedly voted against Labour’s SRE proposals. Isn’t it about time you stop hiding behind David Cameron and own up to your own mistakes?
A- The Labour party had thirteen years to introduce mandatory Personal, Social and Health Education, as Liberal Democrats were calling for. They failed. In fact, it was Labour who decided academies didn’t have to teach the National Curriculum – creating a whole class of schools that can drop sex and relationship education entirely.
Like many parents, I find it incredible that young people can get through their entire schooling without ever having age appropriate information about sex and relationships. It’s true that I haven’t been able to persuade the Conservatives to put this right – but Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case.
Q- Sir Richard Branson – Sex Education: Will Mr Clegg agree with me that the best way to tackle this is through early lessons in schools on Sex and Relationship Education?
A- Without proper sex and relationship education we abandon young people to the internet and playground gossip – which no parent wants. All young people must have the opportunity to talk about these issues with a qualified teacher in a safe environment.
And Personal, Social and Health Education must reflect the full, diverse range of relationships in Britain – including LGBT relationships. This is an important part of tackling prejudice.
Q- Billy Connelly – Humanist weddings: Many have turned to Humanist celebrants in Scotland, where Humanist marriages are legally recognised. Will your party advance legislation to remove the discrimination against the growing number of humanists in the rest of the UK?
A- Yes. People should be able to celebrate their marriage in the way that is right for them. The ban on humanist weddings is illiberal and unfair – I would like to see it ended.
Q- Anthony Cullen – Northern Ireland: What steps are been taken to ensure marriage equality legislation is passed in all areas of the UK?
A- Marriage legislation is a devolved issue so this is rightly something for the people of Northern Ireland to decide themselves. I am proud that the UK government has led the way – and I hope more politicians in Northern Ireland will look to the fantastic success of marriage equality in England, Wales and Scotland for inspiration. And, of course, I hope that as many people as possible will campaign and put pressure on them to do so.
Q- Max Traeger – Bullying: What would you do in government to help LGBT teenagers struggling with bullying and mental health issues?
A- Bullying can have a devastating impact – it simply isn’t acceptable that LGBT children and teenagers should have to put up with it. In government, Liberal Democrats secured a £2m fund to tackle homophobic bullying in schools, and will continue to fund the most successful programmes.
We have also led the way in putting mental health at the very top of the political agenda – with a £1.25bn investment in children’s mental health announced in the coalition’s final budget. We desperately need to redress the historic discrimination against mental illness, and give mental health the same priority as we give physical health: this will be on the front page of our manifesto and one of the priorities we would want to deliver in the next parliament.
But tackling homophobic bullying isn’t just about tweaking policies in schools. We have to build a society that is open and welcoming to people of every background, sexuality, and race. Government can help through policies like equal marriage – which sends a message to children and adults across the country that everyone has right to live their life as they choose.
Q- Harry Small: What more can be done by the UK government to end discriminatory treatment and persecution of the LGBT community in the Commonwealth and beyond?
A- The truth is there are still many countries, including in the Commonwealth, where LGBT people are forced to live restricted lives, often in great danger.
The UK has led by example and has a fantastic platform for promoting equal rights. We should use our muscle on the international stage to promote rights for all minorities, including LGBT people. Liberal Democrat International Development Ministers, Lynne Featherstone and Lindsay Northover, have frequently raised LGBT rights in their meetings with foreign governments, and ensured funding for civil society groups who are fighting for equality, often in very hostile environments. This work needs to continue in the next parliament – with the aim of seeing decriminalisation of homosexuality and a safe environment for LGBT people wherever they live.