Former Foreign Secretary says Britain must use its influence with Commonwealth to end ‘shocking’ anti-gay laws
By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
Britain must make defending the rights of gay and lesbian people a key plank of its relations with other Commonwealth countries, the former Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted.
He said it was “shocking” that homosexuality is still illegal many countries with historic ties to the UK and argued that Britain must use what influence it has to press for change.
His comments came as he addressed a reception in Parliament at which the annual PinkNews awards were presented.
Mr Hague, who is leaving the Commons at the next election, said he was proud of Britain’s record on the issue during his four years as Foreign Secretary including putting pressure on countries such as Uganda over draconian new anti-homosexuality laws.
But he said more must be done and accused countries which ban homosexual acts of breaking international law.
“While we are making progress in Britain and elsewhere, the situation in many countries in the world is not only difficult, it is actually worsening,” he said.
“It is completely incompatible with international human rights laws to make illegal consenting same-sex relations and to deny rights to people on the basis of their sexuality.”
Homosexual acts are classed as a criminal offence in around 80 countries and territories around the world including many former British colonies.
“One of my last acts as Foreign Secretary was to write to the Commonwealth Secretary General urging him to use his position to urge member states to live up to their responsibilities to promote the rights of their LGBT citizens,” he said.
“It is shocking that homosexuality is still illegal in so many member states and it must be an important part of our relations with those countries to persuade them to do better.”
Mr Hague presented a “peer of the year” award to Lord Fowler, who served as Health Secretary under Margaret Thatcher for his work combating HIV and Aids.
Speaking at a dinner following the awards, a serving Church of England bishop said he was “ashamed” of the church’s record on gay rights.
The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham said the world would be a better place if Christians spent less time obsessing about the “minutiae of the Book of Leviticus”, which contains passages condemning homosexuality.
Speaking as he prepared to say grace before the meal, he told guests: “I want to say how honoured and privileged I felt to be here tonight knowing that the institution that I represent has not got a glorious record in terms of its dealings with its own LGBT people and the community at large.
“I am ashamed and I need to say that.”
Quoting a passage from the book of Micah, he added: “Doing justice, loving mercy walking humbly with God – if it was about that rather than some of the minutiae of the Book of Leviticus, perhaps the world would be a better place.
“And I look forward to a day when frankly the institution I represent, the Church of England, would stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.”
He added: “Take it from me, the day will come when I promise that faith communities in this country will be very much more part of the solution than the problem.”
Benjamin Cohen, publisher of PinkNews said: “We were delighted when William Hague offered to use the PinkNews Awards to make his first major speech on gay rights.
“The Foreign Office under his leadership radically altered its approach to LGBT issues placing gay rights at the heart of its human rights agenda.
“Hague is a perfect example of a politician on a journey when it comes to gay rights – from the party leader who opposed the repeal of Section 28, to one of the proud sponsors of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act.”
“The bishop spoke with honesty and from the heart, revealing the shame that he feels for the way that the Church of England has dealt with the issue of homosexuality.
“We look forward to the day when the bishop’s views are not a rarity in the world’s great religions and instead before part of the mainstream reality.”