The legislation on same sex marriages has had a stormy ride through the Commons in recent weeks. One feature of the debate was the prominence given to the advice of John Bowers Q.C.’s advice on the consequences for the work of teachers if the legislation is passed in the proposed form.
John Bowers Q.C.’s advice on this issue was highlighted in a memorandum submitted to Parliament by the charity, Care.
The memorandum stated that Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 requires teachers to teach about the ‘nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children.’ If marriage is redefined it seems that the new definition of marriage, and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children, will have to be taught about. …..John Bowers QC in his legal opinion says that section 403 (1A) provides “a legitimate basis for schools or LEAs which wish to promote a particular vision of equality to require all teachers to teach materials which endorse same sex marriage”.
Mr Bowers advises that “unless the Education Act is amended there would be a duty on teachers to positively portray the new notion of marriage and its importance for family life. …It is important to note that having a belief in “traditional marriage” is not covered in employment law under the protected characteristic of religion and belief. As such the position for teachers who do not wish to promote the new definition of marriage is currently most unstable.”
In both the Committee stage of the Bill and during its passage through the Commons, this advice was raised as a real problem for teachers. At the Committee stage, the advice was referred to as confirming the dilemma facing teachers who refused to teach materials endorsing same sex marriage.
Speaking in the Commons in the debate on the Bill, Sir Gerald Howarth also referred to the difficulties foreseen by the advice:
“No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities, who is doing a gallant job in difficult circumstances, said on the “Today” programme on 25 January that there would be “no requirement” on teachers to promote same-sex marriage.” However, she added ominously that:
“Obviously we wouldn’t expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anything.”
What guidance does that give to teachers in our country who have a profound objection to promoting anything other than traditional marriage? John Bowers QC…has pointed out that there is no protection.
The advice was also raised with Michael Gove’s in the Committee scrutining the Bill.