BY ANABEL INGE
FArtH scHooLs should not be allowed to teach that samesex relationships are morally wrong, the Education Secretary has said.
Asked for his views on the subject in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Alan Johnson said: "I think that we have a society now where we allow civil partnerships, where we have legislated to prevent any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and I think we're a far better society for that.
"I don't want this hounding of people on the basis of their sexual orientation."
If his views were implemented, all Catholic schools would have to refrain from making any moral judgments about the lifestyle of homosexuals.
But a spokesman for the Catholic Education Service said: "All sex and relationship education in Catholic schools typically places great emphasis on the importance of human relationships and respect for one another.
"Naturally, the importance of marriage features in this and we would expect that all sex and relationships education is carried out'in line with the teachings of the Chttich."
Mr Johnson was responding to the news that a 120,000-strong union of lecturers had voted unanimously to change the law so that all teachers — including those based at faith schools — are banned from expressing their opposition to homosexuality or gay lifestyles in the classroom.
Delegates at the University and College Union annual congress in Bournemouth argued that in order to put an end to the spread of "bigoted" attitudes in schools and universities, teachers should stop promoting heterosexual marriage above gay partnerships.
When asked whether or not he agreed with the academics' propositions, Mr Johnson said that he did not, but that "we need to look at them when they eventually come forward as proposals". However, he added: "That [proposition] doesn't sound very sensible to me." Union members stated their disappointment that the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), which were supposed to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals, had failed to restrict what opinions teachers are permitted to express in the classroom. A motion was unanimously supported to end "negative characterisations" of gay lifestyles.
One union delegate suggested that the legislators' neglect of this particular area went against the spirit of the SORs, which came into force on April 30 despite strong opposition by the Church.
[The regulations] did nothing to stop the negative characterisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender lifestyles by teachers," said Alan Whitaker of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, in Oxfordshire. "The regulations actually say that there is nothing to stop teachers proclaiming the superiority of heterosexual marriage.
"The regulations say it's unlawful to characterise same-sex relationships as inferior.
"But to my mind it's rather difficult to see how you can do the one without implying you are doing the other."
At present, teachers at faith schools who educate their pupils on the teachings of the Church with regard to homosexuality are acting within the law. Government guidance states that "if a faith school (or indeed any school) teaches that the Christian and Muslim faiths decree that same-sex sexual activity is a sin, then the school will not be acting unlawfully". Teachers can also express personal opposition to gay lifestyles.
On the subject of marriage, Government rules on sex education say that "the importance of marriage for family life" must be conveyed in the classroom.