Scottish Labour leader shrugs off criticism over equality spokesperson who opposes gay equality

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard fumbled an interview in which he was challenged about his avowedly anti-gay marriage equality spokesperson.

Left-wing candidate Richard Leonard took the reigns of the Scottish Labour party in November, replacing centrist Kezia Dugdale – who was the party’s first openly gay leader.

Leonard came under fire when he appointed his top team, making Elaine Smith the frontbench “Spokeswoman for the Eradication of Poverty and Inequality”.

Ms Smith’s role tackling “inequality” is ironic as she was one of the most vocal members of the Scottish Parliament opposing equal marriage in 2013, likening it to polygamy and claiming it would lead to unforeseen “consequences”.

Mr Leonard was challenged over the appointment on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland today, but gave a fumbling answer that failed to actually address her anti-LGBT views.

Asked about her stance on gay marriage, he said: “Well, Elaine’s position on that is not one I support.”

When the interviewer pointed out that she was his equality spokesperson, Mr Leonard appeared briefly lost for words.

He said: “It’s not in keeping… well… look, we’ve got a rising level of child poverty in this country, more people in work are living in poverty.

“We’ve got a huge rise in inequality, the top 1% richest people in Scotland earn more than the bottom 50% put together.”

Richard Leonard, the newly elected leader of Scottish Labour (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Asked again about her position on equal marriage, he deflected: “There are huge challenges that we face, and I think Elaine Smith is well equipped to lead the Labour Party’s campaigns against that growing inequality and against that rise in poverty.

“That’s why I appointed her to that position.”

Ms Smith wrote a 12-page document in 2013, decrying same-sex marriage and linking it to polygamy and “consequences” for children.

She claimed: “Whilst the Government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.

“Further, if the Government is sincere about it support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.

“On a wider equality issue and with relevance to this legislative proposal, if Christianity is no longer the framework for society consideration must then be given
to what is replacing it.”

In her submission opposing same-sex marriage, Ms Smith railed against proposals in the law to allow LGBT-inclusive churches to conduct same-sex weddings, which the Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church have since taken steps towards.

Scottish Labour Party leader Richard Leonard joined by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

She wrote: “It is not, in my view, the Government’s job to interfere in the operation of churches, which is what this proposal seems to do.

“The potential consequences, of course, would not stop with the ceremony.

“The consequences of the legislation will be far reaching and would not just affect religious celebrants but could impact on people right across the country, particularly those with personal religious views. Teachers, local council workers and parents could all fall into categories potentially affected.”

Ms Smith also claimed that teachers should have the right to opt out from LGBT-inclusive education.


Elaine Smith

She said: “On the specific issue of teachers, there are particular concerns. The Government’s proposal indicates that they would not expect a local authority to take “immediate” disciplinary action against a teacher who expresses concerns about the use of certain educational materials.

“There is also the issue of parents and what control they have over the information their child receives. I have already been approached by parents with children at nondenominational schools who are concerned about sex education in primary schools.

“They are aware that they can seek to withdraw their child but are concerned that in doing so their child will then suffer from bullying and be set apart from their peers.
The Government proposal for this legislation is that parents can withdraw their children from sexual health education programmes if they wish.

“”Tovernment has indicated that it does not consider it appropriate to say that issues relating to same sex marriage, same sex relationships and homosexuality should never be raised in primary schools and neither can parents opt their children out of such discussions.”

Ms Smith then went on to insist gay people should be kept “different but equal” by being restricted to civil partnerships.

She wrote: “I do not regard same sex marriage as a simple matter of equality particularly as we already have civil partnerships for same sex couples. Just because something is not identical does not make it unequal.”