Leading article: Hats off to Scottish Enlightenment

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is not that many years ago that gays and lesbians were persecuted by the law and those with partners of the same sex had to resort to depressing subterfuges to keep their relationships hidden. Some right-wingers hark back to those days with nostalgia, wrongly insisting that the old days of secrecy and witch-hunts constituted a kind of firewall, protecting matrimony and the family from corrosion and attack.

However, as the vote in the assembly of the Church of Scotland over the appointment of a gay-partnered minister has shown – these voices are ever fewer in number, even in institutions once thought of as socially conservative. A body still associated in the minds of many with the dour Calvinism of John Knox has proven itself willing to reconcile its traditions with the growing conviction in society that discrimination against people of different sexual orientation is unfair and unreasonable – and ought not to be upheld on the grounds of appeals to the list of "abominations" in the Book of Leviticus.

This is a moment to congratulate both Scott Rennie on his appointment and the Kirk for showing common sense. Would that all other religious groups in Britain followed the Kirk's enlightened lead. The revelations of the horrific physical and sexual abuse that thousands of children endured at the hands of their clerical so-called carers in Ireland is a reminder of how things can go wrong in societies still steeped in a culture of sexual secrecy and repression. At the same time, we might also remember that one reason why the climate surrounding the issue of homosexuality is so different in Britain today is because of the raft of legalisation outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexuality passed under Tony Blair. This started with the lowering of the age of consent for gays and lesbians from 18 to 16 in 2001, the legalisation of adoption by same-sex couples in 2002, the scrapping of Section 28 in 2003, and the passage of the Civil Partnerships Act of 2004.

Whatever our opinions on the Gulf War and other aspects of Mr Blair's policies, it should not be forgotten that he did much to dispel the prejudices against gays and lesbians and so to create a more humane society.