Two MPs have announced they will no longer take interns from the religious charity CARE’s Leadership Programme as a petition denouncing the charity for sponsoring a ‘gay cure’ event has amassed 9,000 signatures.
Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP for Newcastle North and Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West confirmed today on BBC Radio Newcastle they would not take interns in future.
CARE, Christian Action Research and Education, co-sponsored the 2009 “Judaeo-Christian” event ‘Sex and the City: Redeeming sex today’ which included talks on “mentoring the sexually broken” from speakers including Jospeh Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and author of books on how to clinically “treat” homosexuality.
Phillip Dawson had put together a petition calling on 17 MPs who had recently accepted CARE interns to distance themselves from the scheme.
Ms McKinnell said: “Since October, I have had an intern in my Westminster office who is participating in the CARE Leadership Programme. Recently, allegations have been made in relation to an event that CARE part-funded in 2009 relating to “therapeutic approaches to same sex attraction”.
“I am deeply concerned by these allegations and, due to the sensitivity of the issues involved, I have taken the decision to terminate my collaboration with CARE’s internship programme with immediate effect, and I will not be taking an intern from the CARE Leadership Programme in the future.”
Sharon Hodgson MP said: “The theories discussed at the conference in question could not be further from my opinion, or the opinions of the young people who have had the opportunity to work in Parliament for me through CARE’s scheme.
“I take on CARE interns because I want to give young people interested in politics an opportunity to gain work experience they otherwise wouldn’t have got. At no point have the interns themselves or CARE as an organisation influenced my decisions on any issues, and especially not on gay rights. My voting record on this speaks for itself.
“My current intern is a really hard working young man and I have no intention of ruining his internship or future career prospects because of this by cutting his experience short. That said I do not plan to take another intern through this programme in the future.”
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Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-Upon-Tweed said: “Although it is some time since I had a CARE intern, I welcome the fact that CARE creates opportunities for young people involved in the churches to also become involved in politics.
“CARE interns are not involved in lobbying the MPs for whom they work and their participation does not commit either them, or the MPs for whom they work, to any views or policies advanced by CARE, or to the views of speakers at conferences organised by CARE. To exclude young people from internships because they are Christians would be an indefensible denial of free speech and freedom of religion.”
Phillip Dawson, who started the petition, told PinkNews.co.uk: “The idea of a gay cure is utterly offensive. The fact that MPs have accepted staff members paid for by a charity which has co-sponsored a ‘gay cure’ event is disgraceful. MPs have launched a campaign to kick homophobia out of sport – they should start by kicking it out of parliament.
“I am delighted that more MPs are realising that it is unacceptable to accept staff members paid for by a charity that co-sponsored a ‘gay cure’ event. I am sure the 9,000 people who have signed the petition so far will be equally pleased with this news – but there are still more MPs to convince, so the campaign isn’t over.”
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.
Following indications the material benefit of CARE interns may have only been given to straight MPs in the past, Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron told PinkNews.co.uk in February “any discrimination” in the scheme would be “unacceptable”.
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.
The four actions it suggests readers take to oppose marriage equality are: signing the Coalition for Marriage, writing to their MP, visiting their MP in person, and prayer.