London (CNSNews.com) - Scotland has become the first part of the United Kingdom to scrap a controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools - but opponents of the repeal also scored a moral victory by getting the importance of marriage enshrined in new guidelines for sex education teachers.
Faced by a growing public campaign in favor of keeping the law, known as section 28, ministers in the devolved Scottish Executive reversed course this week, agreeing to a crucial change in the wording for the legally-binding teaching guidelines.
Lawmakers then passed the repeal bill by a 99-17 vote.
The text of the compulsory guidelines will now say teachers of sex education should emphasize " ... the importance of stable family life and relationships" - and then adds the crucial phrase "... including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage."
Previously the Labor-led Executive maintained there was no need for legally-enforceable guidelines ensuring that teachers highlight marriage in their classes.
Supporters of section 28, aware that its repeal was ultimately inevitable, fought for the amendment, which they said may help reassure parents who were concerned that the abolition of the law would result in homosexuality being actively promoted in schools.
The Roman Catholic Church and Brian Souter, a Christian transport millionaire who spearheaded a "Keep the Clause" campaign, welcomed the inclusion of marriage in the guidance.
Souter last month financed Britain's first ever privately-funded referendum on the matter, in which 87 percent of Scottish voters who responded voted to keep section 28. On Wednesday he announced he was closing down the campaign.
Souter's "Keep the Clause" drive was supported by Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of Scotland's 750,000 Roman Catholics, who warned earlier: "If we are not very, very careful, we will inadvertently promote a lifestyle for our children which will reduce their life expectancy, increase their chances of HIV infection and expose them to predatory and abusive relationships."
The eight-month long dispute over section 28 dominated the first year of the devolved Scottish Executive's existence.
Section 28 was introduced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1980s, partly as a reaction to the actions of left-wing local government councils which promoted "politically correct" programs.
It said local authorities "shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."
It opponents, headed by the homosexuality advocacy lobby, said it was discriminatory and had no place in a modern, tolerant society. Some teacher groups said it provided an environment in which homophobic bully could occur.
Its supporters said the law's repeal would open the doors for highly graphic and offensive material already being prepared for use in some schools.
The British government has still not managed to scrap section 28 in England and Wales, its attempts to do so having been repeatedly stymied by the Conservative-dominated upper House of Lords.
Poll: Scots Oppose Promotion of Homosexuality in Schools (May 31, 2000)
Material Promoting Homosexuality in British Schools 'Waiting in the Wings' (Feb 8, 2000)