Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne admits he was wrong to say being gay was ‘gross and unnatural’

Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne has distanced himself for his past anti-LGBT+ remarks.

The long-serving MP was a strong opponent of LGBT+ rights in the 1990s and 2000s, opposing an equal age of consent, the abolition of Section 28 and same-sex civil partnerships.

In 1999, he claimed a move to equalise the age of consent would “serve to entrap a small number of young men in a lifestyle that is gross and unnatural, and who might otherwise have led a life that was not blighted in that way”.

However, Swayne was later among a handful of Tories to vote in favour of LGBT+ non-discrimination protections in 2007 – and he was later responsible for helping to steer equal marriage through parliament in 2013.

Tory MP Desmond Swayne says he held lazy ‘antediluvian prejudices’

In a blog on his website last week, Swayne addressed his “transformation from extreme social conservative to libertarian” over the years.

The MP wrote: “Speeches from Hansard that I made years ago in debates about the repeal of Section 28 and reducing the age of sexual consent have surfaced, in which my antediluvian prejudices are quite shocking, even to me.

“How could I have ever believed such things, let alone said them?”

Desmond Swayne backed the Out4Marriage campaign in 2012

Desmond Swayne backed the Out4Marriage campaign in 2012

He added: “I put my original prejudice down to intellectual laziness. I simply never challenged, or even thought about the views that I held.

“Furthermore, when I received a very large correspondence in support of my position and against the liberalising measures that we were debating, it was so much easier to simply reply by stating that I agreed with them, rather than investing any intellectual effort in the matter.”

MP says he changed his mind over Christians refusing service to gay couples

Swayne explains he had a “flash of enlightenment” during the 2007 battle over sexual orientation regulations, amid a high-profile case concerning a Christian B&B owners who refused to accept a gay couple as guests.

He wrote: “In a flash of enlightenment the question occurred to me, ‘What Gospel is it they could possibly have been reading?’

“How on Earth could they imagine that, were our lord the landlord, that he would have turned the guests away?

“Having made that leap, I then put time and effort into studying the scriptures.

“The result of which study I put to use when the controversy arose when the Equal Marriage Bill was before parliament. I published a number of defences of the bill from a biblical perspective.”

He added: “My stance led to a significant number of resignations from my political association.

“I was assured that I was destroying marriage, to which I responded that the marriages to which they were objecting would be occasions of joy and celebration to the participants, their friends and relatives, but wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone else.”

“Events have proved me right: marriage has survived and, I believe, it has been strengthened.”

Swayne remains a deeply controversial figure, however. In 2019, the MP refused to apologise for donning Blackface, claiming it was an “entirely acceptable bit of fun”. Swayne also faced anger last month when he suggested COVID-19 figures released by the NHS were manipulated.

Eloise Stonborough, associate director of policy and research at Stonewall, said: “It’s refreshing to hear Sir Desmond Swayne reflect on how his views on LGBT+ rights have changed since he spoke against the repeal of Section 28 and reducing the age of consent.

“Too often in today’s polarised society, it’s assumed people can’t change their minds or grow from past mistakes, but Sir Desmond Swayne shows that doesn’t have to be the case.

“People in positions of political power have a responsibility to champion the individuals they represent, and to invest the time and effort to understand the issues at stake.”