Throughout last week there were murmurings of an embarrassment at the Law Society involving marriage champion Sir Paul Coleridge and a controversial US group called the World Congress of Families (WCF). I got the story nailed down on Friday afternoon, decided to hold it until Monday, and then to my disappointment John Bingham broke it in The Telegraph on Saturday.
It’s a great story – and even better if you include the facts which The Telegraph, with its sympathy towards the agenda of Coleridge and WCF, chose to leave out...
So, the World Congress of Families organised a conference in partnership with Christian Concern to be held at the Law Society on 23 May. 120 people were expected to attend, with speakers including Coleridge and the right wing columnist Christina Odone. Rather ominously, it was called, “One Man. One Woman. Making the case for marriage, for the good of society.”
Any doubts about where the WCF may stand on gay people being involved in its plan “for the good of society” can be resolved by reference to its website. On it, WCF states that “the natural human family is established by the Creator and essential to good society.” It continues:
“Sexuality is ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union.”
The group goes on to put being gay on a par with other “deviations” from sexual norms, including incest, which, it adds, lead to "disease".
“Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit. They lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease."
A reminder, at this point, of the Law Society's diversity policy, which includes a duty to "not discriminate unlawfully on the grounds of sexual orientation".
The event was arranged months ago, but it was only last week that the Law Society cottoned onto the looming PR disaster it had on its hands. Hurriedly, it cancelled the event. This is an extract from the email informing attendees that the event was off, sent on Thursday by Adam Tallis of Amper&and, the company which organises hospitality at The Law Society.
“We regret the need to take this step. I can assure you that it is not something we do lightly. However, where an event does not fit within this company’s diversity policy, it is a step we must take. The nature of your event has recently been drawn to our attention, and it is contrary to our diversity policy, espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same sex marriage.”
Now, in its story, The Telegraph has framed the affair as an example of political-correctness-gone-mad culture stifling honest debate, claiming sarcastically that “debating gay marriage breached the Law Society’s ‘diversity policy’”. The paper also quotes an outraged Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern:
“It is just extraordinary that the professional body that regulates solicitors in this country is censoring debate on a major change in the law that will inevitably have massive consequences for society...A lot of lawyers will be very alarmed by this and ashamed of their regulatory body.”
But is it really extraordinary to have second thoughts about lending your premises to a group that is so disapproving of gay people?
Anyway, the good news for the Law Society is that somehow it has managed to turn the whole thing into a PR coup. This statement issued by chief executive Des Hudson seems to have really worked the magic, getting everyone to forget the howler the Law Society made in the first place by agreeing to host a conference by WCF. Hudson said:
“We are proud of our role in promoting diversity in the solicitors’ profession and felt that the content of this conference sat uncomfortably with our stance. Through our events and venues supplier, we have assisted the organisers in identifying an alternative, non Law Society venue."
Here are a couple of comments from Pink News, the gay news website, in reaction to Hudson’s noble words.
“Well done, The Law Society. Bigotry has no place in the UK. Those bloody right wing American religious hate groups should be barred from the UK altogether.”
“Solicitors should be very proud that their professional body is prepared to do what is right. Well done The Law Society.”
Watch Legal Cheek correspondent Kevin Poulter, a solicitor at Bircham Dyson Bell, explain why he is in favour of gay marriage.