Politics is getting hot under the collar
Politics is more sexy than you think. And no, I’m not talking about political sex scandals like the 1961 Profumo Affair (though there have been a fair few). I’m talking about the fact that since the snap election was called on 18 April, it’s become clear that both sex and religion are going to play an important role in how many people decide to vote.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, has been under a huge amount of pressure to put to bed his feelings on gay sex, and whether he believes it is a sin.
Farron, who is an evangelical Christian, took over as the leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 from the embattled, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. One of the first questions put to him by Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman after his election was if he, as a Christian, believed that gay sex was a sin. Farron's response was that “we are all sinners”.
“What's interesting about the Lib Dem leader's comments on sex is that they raise questions about how politicians core values align with how they behave politcally”
Since the snap election was announced, he's butted heads with Newman again. “I’m not in a position to be making theological pronouncements,” Farron said when she asked him the question for the second time. “I can promise you one thing, over the next six weeks I’m not going to spend my time talking theology or making pronouncements.” But eventually, last week, he confirmed that he does not think homosexuality, or having gay sex, is sinful.
What's particularly interesting about Farron's comments is that they raise questions about how politicians core values align with how they behave politically. Despite Farron claiming in the same controversial interview with Newman that "As a liberal, I’m passionate about equality – about equal marriage, about equal rights for LGBT people", the worry is that if he fundamentally disagrees with aspects of homosexuality, like gay sex, because of his religion this will ultimately bleed into the way he leads the party and votes for and against legislation.
But even though Farron voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2007, he voted for the same-sex marriage bill in 2013 (he was absent for its third reading which he regrets), and in general the Liberal Democrats are known for being supportive of the LGBT community.
Either way, the impact Farron’s remarks will have on the election is likely to be significant because he has made some powerful enemies in the LGBT community. Celebrities such as David Walliams, Sue Perkins and columnist Owen Jones, have had it out against him on social media, and David Baddiel went as far to call Farron a "fundamentalist Christian homophobe".
The Liberal Democrats were practically wiped out after the 2015 election – in part because many young people were pissed that Clegg went back on his promise not to raise university fees from £3000 per year and for going into a coalition with the Conservatives at all. But with Labour struggling internally and the Tories pushing for a hard Brexit, the snap election looked to be their chance reclaim the centre ground. However latest polls show that support for them has dropped by three points to just 8 per cent.
“Theresa May arguably has a much more worrying record on voting for legislation which could hamper the lives of gay people”
Of course, relating Christianity to homophobia isn’t always fair. There are many Christians who hold progressive views on homosexuality and who identify as queer or gay. There are also plenty of homophobes who are not religious at all. And what hasn’t been talked about enough is that Theresa May (the daughter of a vicar, but seemingly not as religious as Farron, say) arguably has a much more worrying record on voting for legislation which will hamper the lives of gay people looking to have carefree sex and relationships.
In 2000, she voted against the repeal of anti-gay school policy Section 28, in 2002 she opposed letting same-sex couples adopt, and although in 2004 she voted for civil partnerships and, much like Farron, has said she would not vote the same way again, she's since abstained from a number of LGBT-rights related votes. During her time as Home Secretary she was also criticised for not doing enough to help LGBT asylum seekers. Take from that what you will.
Also, fun fact: according to Philip Cowley's book Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box: 50 Things You Need To Know About British Elections Conservative voters are also more conservative between the sheets. "They are more likely to describe their sexual behaviour as 'consistent' and 'conventional'." Surprising.