Church 'out of touch' as public supports equal rights for homosexuals

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A revolution in attitudes towards gay men and lesbians is indicated in a poll which shows that a majority of the public want homosexuals to share identical rights to everyone else.

Just 40 years after homosexual acts were legalised, and only nine years since the age of consent was equalised, 61 per cent of the public want gay couples to be able to marry just like the rest of the population, not just have civil partnerships.

Half (49 per cent) believe that gay couples should have equal adoption rights, eight years after it became legal for them to adopt in a highly controversial move by Tony Blair.

Some Roman Catholic adoption agencies are fighting to retain the right to turn away gay couples, which they are now specifically prohibited from doing.

But perhaps the most surprising discovery is that 51 per cent of the public want children to be taught in school that gay relationships are of equal value to marriage.

The famous row over Section 28, which prevented the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools was a defining moment in the 1980s. It was only repealed in 2003. Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader at the time, and dozens of Tory MPs opposed it.

Overall, 68 per cent of the public back “full equal rights” for gay men and lesbians, suggesting that the Church, the final bastion of formal discrimination, is out of touch with public opinion.

Although last month the Church of Scotland upheld the election of the first openly gay minister, the Church of England is still split over the issue. No practising homosexual has been put forward as a candidate for a bishopric since Geoffrey John was proposed, then rejected, as Bishop of Reading.

Clergy can be openly gay provided they affirm to their bishop that the relationship is celibate.

However, the poll found a sizable minority think using the term “gay” as an insult is acceptable. Over a third of the public say they are happy to use the phrase “a bit gay” or have friends who use the term.

The poll, conducted by Populus, was commissioned by The Times to commemorate the Stonewall Riots 40 years ago. A series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations started on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village district of New York. They were triggered by a police raid on the inn, a gay bar run by the Mafia, and are considered a defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and Britain.

The past decade has seen a flurry of equality legislation — equalising the age of consent at 16, the introduction of civil partnerships and the right to enjoy equal provision of goods and services. Although that was intended to prevent hoteliers or holiday companies discriminating against gays, it also covered public services, so adoption agencies were forced to allow gay couples on to their books.

After a ferocious Cabinet battle, in which ministers who were practising Catholics argued that Catholic agencies should be exempt from the legislation, it was agreed that they should be given time to adjust their working practices. Most have agreed to do this, even though it has meant formally splitting from the Church and changing their fund-raising structures. Others are still battling in the courts.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the gay charity, said be believed the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 particularly helped to shift attitudes.

“Suddenly millions of people realised gay people want to get married just like everyone else, and have slightly excitable ceremonies where aunties end up rowing, just like everyone else,” he said.

“It comes up time and time again when I meet people who have been to civil partnership ceremonies or have heard of friends or neighbours having them.”

He said that the most notable finding was the backing for teaching about homosexual relationships in schools.

“That was the most pleasant surprise from this poll. In this matter it is parents who are the ones who matter and clearly they are much more realistic about the wider world than veteran opponents of equality. continues here

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