London (CNSNews.com) - Education groups and church leaders in Scotland are facing off in a growing debate over government plans to scrap a law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
The devolved Scottish Executive wants to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act this year, ahead of plans by the government in London to do likewise elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Donald Dewar, Scotland's First Minister, said Wednesday the legislation had never been especially effective, and he said it was offensive to many.
At a press conference Wednesday, an organization representing about two-thirds of Scottish schools called for the clause to be retained - in other words, the organization wants to keep the law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools. That view has received the support of Christian and Muslim groups as well as some "concerned individuals."
"We're in the position where we've been told that protective legislation is going to be reversed," a Scottish School Board Association spokesman said.
He said the existing law gives parents "the knowledge their children are not going to receive explicit material promoting a homosexual lifestyle. If this clause is repealed, the parents will not have that protection and children will not be protected."
The debate is dividing Scottish society. Another education body, the Scottish Parent-Teacher Council, said it supports plans to repeal section 28.
It is also pitting church leaders against each other, with the heads of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) failing to see eye-to-eye.
Catholic cardinal Thomas Winning earlier this week called homosexual acts "perverted" and said the lifestyle should not be presented as a moral equivalent to marriage.
He pressed the attack Wednesday, writing in a national newspaper that "in the face of an increasingly militant and vocal 'gay rights' campaign, Scotland, and indeed the United Kingdom as a whole, needs the protection offered by Section 28."
But the moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rev. John Cairns, took a different approach, saying the law was "useless" and stigmatized homosexuals and he appealed for what he called a more rational debate.
As far as the broader public view goes, it's not clear where the majority of citizens stand on the issue, although Winning pointed to a recent poll in which 82 percent of people surveyed said they opposed the repeal of section 28. He spoke of the emergence of a "broad coalition" backing this stance.
The Scottish School Board Association's pro-section 28 campaign launched today is being financed by a businessman, Brian Souter, who owns a public transportation company in Scotland.
Homosexual advocacy groups have called for a boycott of Souter's buses.
Winning has emerged as the leading voice for retaining the law. He wrote Wednesday that he had been "horrified" in recent days to see some of the educational material that will be allowed into schools if section 28 is abolished.
"Under the guise of 'health promotion,' one authority has suggested that children as young as 13 may like to role-play the part of a homosexual 'coming out'; others will be asked to put themselves in the position of a married man caught having homosexual sex in public toilets, or play the part of a transvestite cabaret artist.
"This is not the stuff of fiction: it really exists and is being made available for use ..."
He defended accusations of "homophobia," saying the "basic Christian principle of rejecting the sin while loving the sinner cannot be repeated often enough."
Opponents of section 28 say it has encouraged "homophobic" bullying in schools, and prevents teachers from dealing with problems experienced by homosexual pupils.
Winning rejected the argument, saying the clause "does not prevent the discussion of homosexuality, nor the counseling of teenagers confused about their sexuality."
Facing the possibility that section 28 will go, Scotland's Catholic Church has launched a sex education booklet for use in Catholic schools, which will teach pupils about various types of relationships, and say homosexuals should be accepted with compassion. Teachers will continue to stress that homosexuality is wrong.