How will Equal Marriage impact Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools?

Equal marriage was brought in under new legislation for England and Wales in July 2013. This allowed the first same sex marriages in the UK to occur on the 29th March 2014. Scotland will soon follow suit, with the first same sex marriages taking place on 31st December of this year. The big question is, will this affect how young people are taught about marriage in schools?

Not only will there be huge political pressure to ensure young people are taught about the, almost, redefinition of marriage, there is also a legal requirement. Section 403(1A)(a) of the Education Act of 1996 says that the Secretary of State has a duty to “issue guidance” to ensure that pupils “learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children” as part of sex and relationship education.

However, one of the biggest problems facing SRE today is the lack of guidance as to the extent and standard of what should be taught. At the moment, it is a legal requirement for secondary schools to teach SRE, but this is as far as the law goes when it comes to governing what young people should be taught in school. This will inevitably act as a loophole for schools that are against teaching equal marriage.

Opponents of equal marriage tried to use this problem to their advantage by contacting schools and warning them that teaching equal marriage will be enforced. The society for the protection of the unborn child (SPUC) said that even faith schools would be forced to teach about equal marriage. They argued that teachers who refuse to teach equal marriage may face the sack. SPUC also wrote “It is important to recognise that the equal marriage proposals will have a real, significant and disturbing impact on your school, and therefore it is essential that schools express their concerns about these proposals”.

The Church of England submitted a document to parliament detailing why they could not support equal marriage. Amongst the many reasons included in the document, equal marriage teaching featured. It stated that “Whilst Church of England schools will fulfil the duty to teach about the factual nature of marriage in its new legally redefined form, there is residual lack of clarity over how that will interact with the continuing need for schools to reflect their religious ethos in their SRE policies”. They went onto suggest that the Education act of 1996 should be altered so that there could be consideration of the faith of the school when it comes to what is expected from the school.

Additionally, parents have expressed their own fears about how equal marriage will affect SRE. The daytime TV show This Morning ran a little debate between SPUC’s Anthony Ozimitch and journalist Kelly Rose Bradford. Ozimitch argued that same sex marriage teaching in schools would undermine the meaning of marriage and promote a homosexual lifestyle (whatever that is!). Kelly Rose Bradford said that she thought it was important for young people to be taught about all forms of love. The debate can be watched on Youtube which, by the end, had 60% of viewers voting for equal marriage teaching in schools and 40% against. Ozimitch voiced fears that many parents have raised, saying that parents have tried to object to the teaching of same sex marriage and been overruled and told that taking their child out of class would be illegal.

These are just a handful of views about the problems opposing same sex marriage. This is a blog and so far I have attempted to keep my opinion out of it (except for the bit about homosexual lifestyle – I can’t believe people think this is a thing!). I am an openly gay man and I am very happy to see equal marriage pass into law. I think that this can only be a good thing in terms of SRE, as it should see more discussion in schools about sexuality. One of the main reasons I am a member of Sexpression is due to my own inadequate SRE experience. I have to say, so far I have been impressed with the standard of SRE in the schools in Norwich that we have taught in. Seeing displays by Stonewall (a charity that works for the equality of LGBT+ Individuals) was heartening.

However, I can understand the opposing views, particularly those that are religious in origin. My solution would be the same for all the problems with SRE. I think the way Sexpression works is the perfect way to solve these problems. Have an external body that travels around the schools to teach SRE. This way, teachers will not have to teach anything they are opposed to. I personally do not think parents should be allowed to withdraw their children from these sessions as I believe everyone should have an appreciation of different sexualities, just like many schools ensure students get an impression of the many different religions. I know many people will have different views to my own, and I completely respect that. What remains to be seen is how this historical redefinition of marriage in the UK actually effects the education system.