Theresa May’s new Defence Secretary voted to deny rights to gay soldiers
Theresa May has appointed a Defence Secretary who voted against allowing armed forces personnel to enter same-sex marriages.
The Prime Minister today appointed Gavin Williamson as the new Defence Secretary, replacing the embattled Sir Michael Fallon, who quit amid a sleaze scandal.
Williamson, who will be responsible for overseeing the country’s Armed Forces in his new role, has not been a popular choice within the party.
And the newly-appointed official was one of just 96 MPs who voted against making same-sex marriage available to armed forces personnel.
170 MPs cast votes against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in 2013, compared to the 395 who voted in favour.
But nearly half of those that opposed the initial marriage bill dropped their opposition for a 2014 motion, which expanded the law’s remit to allow same-sex marriages to be recognised in the Armed Forces for troops serving overseas.
The new Defence Secretary, however, was one of just 96 MPs who voted against the Armed Forces proposal, which was crucial to secure the rights of LGB troops serving overseas.
Fallon, who also opposed equal marriage, abstained on the armed forces bill.
The passage of the bill allows same-sex couples to marry in certain British consulates in armed forces bases overseas, and potentially allow for same-sex marriages in military chapels.
In his role as Theresa May’s Chief Whip, Williamson was also responsible for brokering negotiations with Northern Ireland’s hardline anti-LGBT Democratic Unionist Party.
Mr Williamson was said to be central to negotiations with the DUP to prop up the government through a confidence-and-supply deal earlier this year.
The deal was strongly criticised by LGBT conservatives, who sought assurances from the PM that LGBT rights would not be undermined by the deal.
Speaking at the PinkNews Awards last month, Theresa May vowed her government would support LGBT rights.
She said: “Let me be absolutely clear. We have come a long way – but there is much still to do.
“The Government has a plan to deliver, and I am committed to ensuring that we work that through.
“Because LGBT history is all our history. LGBT success is everyone’s success. And LGBT rights are human rights.
“So let’s stand up for those rights together and together build a better future for everyone in our country.”
The ban on gay soldiers serving in the Army was only lifted in 1999, after a long-running campaign by LGBT rights campaigners.
But the Armed Forces have made a number of reforms in the past few years to become LGBT-inclusive.
British Army officers recently starred in a Stonewall campaign to call out homophobia.
Images released for the campaign feature two senior officials from the British Army, Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders and Sergeant Low-Barrow
Sgt. Low-Barrow said: “Traditionally the Army was straight and male – it looked pretty homogenous from the outside.
“But letting people express their individuality – whether that’s being trans, black, Asian – allows people to be as productive as possible.”
He explained: “[When] I joined the Army… early on an issue with my sexuality got me down and I thought about leaving.
“My Company’s Sergeant Major pulled me aside to have a word – she said she wouldn’t stand by and let me throw it all away.
“She became my polaris – whenever I’ve thought ‘Do I want to be here?’ I always think of her, and of so many people who have sacrificed so much for me to be here. I can’t throw that away.”
The British Army won the Public Sector Equality Award at last year’s PinkNews Awards for its work to modernise on LGBT issues.
The Army recently celebrated Pride by flying the rainbow flag from 300 bases across the world.
Lt Gen Patrick Sanders, the Commander Field Army and the Army’s LGBT Champion, said: “Under fire, no one cares if someone is black or white, gay or straight; an individual should be valued for who he or she is and what they can do.
“Raising the rainbow flag across the Field Army is a clear symbol of our inclusive approach to all groups, regardless of preference or difference.
“Only by fully embracing our diversity will we be set to overcome the varied challenges of the future.”
The British Army supports LGBT employees in a number of ways including LGBT-friendly policies through the Army Diversity and Inclusion Plan, providing comprehensive guidance on assignments where LGBT people may be at extra risk, enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment, a wide network of Diversity Advisors and providing D&I training to all employees.
The well-established Army Employee Support Network is consulted to inform employment policy. Mentoring and support is also offered through the network and the Army prides itself on offering the network as support through times like gender transition.
A board-level champion on LGBT issues informs future policy at the highest level of the organisation and senior management straight allies help to ensure LGBT representation at all levels of the organisation at Pride and other LGBT events.
Chief of Defence Personnel for the armed forces Andrew Gregory previously spoke to PinkNews about issues faced by LGBT people serving on the front lines.
He said: “We’ve absolutely got to tap all sections of society otherwise we simply won’t be able to get the people we need.
“We will be missing out on huge rafts of talents from Asian communities, LGBT people – all of you have much to offer defence.
“We would continue to be legitimate because our power to operate comes from Her Majesty, but we will not be seen by parts of society as being their armed forces and I think that’s a risk.”
He said: “There’s always been quite a lot of gay people in the armed forces, and until 2000 they had to keep it hidden.
“There’s always been gay people in the army and they’ve served with great distinction and the joy now is they can be themselves a bit more.
“Now are we perfect? No. Do we still have pockets of homophobia? Yes, I’m afraid we do. Are we trying to address it? Yes.”
In January 2015, an officer in the British Army opened up about being transgender.