NHS warns Scottish Govt against allowing teachers to opt out of equal marriage lessons

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Scotland’s largest health board has warned the Scottish Government against allowing teachers and students to opt out of lessons on equal marriage and same-sex relationships.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is opposed to new draft guidance for sex education lessons that would allow teachers or pupils to opt out on the grounds of “conscience”.

In a submission to ministers, the board said: “It is extremely concerning that teaching staff would be provided an opportunity to refuse to participate in this particular aspect of the curriculum …

“There are other areas of the taught curriculum where ‘conscience’ may be a factor – e.g. modern studies or religious education – where no option to withdraw is provided.”

The board argued that staff who opt out from sex education lessons on the grounds of “conscience” may only need training to overcome their objections.

The Telegraph reports Dumfries and Galloway health board also warned against allowing pupils to opt out of lessons using a “conscience clause”, arguing this could lead to intimidation by parents of their children and the “entire basis” of sex education being undermined in Scotland.

“As we move forward into an era where same-sex marriage is permitted, there may be significant campaigns by parents in relation to (sex education) which alludes to same‐sex unions and there is a need to protect programmes from activities of this sort,” the board said.

Health chiefs also protested against the guidance recommending pupils learn about “the values of a stable and loving family life”, arguing this was insensitive to those youngsters who did not grow up in such an environment.

Some objected to the phrase “both sexes” being used, stating this was “problematic” for youngsters who are transgender.

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is currently updating its existing guidance on the Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education in Scottish Schools document and as part of that has sought views from various organisations and individuals.

“We are considering carefully the comments we have received and will publish an updated version in due course.”

Last month, the National Secular Society criticised the Scottish Government for putting local authorities in an “invidious position” of having to decide individually whether it is permissible for religious registrars to discriminate against gay couples.

In October last year, Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil suggested that registrars in Scotland who object to same-sex marriages will not be forced to carry them out.

But he stressed that it was a requirement of all authorities to ensure same-sex couples had absolutely no barriers to marriage ceremonies.

Following March’s Royal Assent of Scotland’s equal marriage legislation, the Scottish Government has said the first same-sex marriages will take place before the end of the year.