I have a lot of respect for Iain Duncan Smith, but his otherwise excellent interview in the Sunday Telegraph tomorrow contains a huge error. He talks about marriage and quite rightly explains how it needs to be supported as a key bedrock of our society. But he then goes on to dismiss gay couples as 'irrelevant' to family policy. He basically says they have no role in bringing up children. Here's an extract...
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has dismissed gay couples as "irrelevant" to his work on shaping family policy for David Cameron. Mr Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph that same-sex partnerships "don't even register on the Richter scale of how to bring up children". The head of Mr Cameron's social justice policy group spoke out as he prepared to unveil a hard-hitting interim report. A future Tory government should strengthen the family unit of "two parents bringing up a child", he told the newspaper. But asked if that only meant heterosexual couples, he said: "I don't think the gay stuff is anything to do with this because it's irrelevant. "We're looking at figures about the bringing up of children. When it comes to gay couples they don't even register on the Richter scale of how to bring up kids. We are looking at the issue of who brings up kids and the answer is it's men and women that are the issue here.
"Men and women are the ones who have the children. Gay couples have nothing to do with this at all. If you think that something like half of a per cent of Britain are gay, you are dealing with tiny numbers here."... Mr Cameron used his party conference speech this year to back civil partnerships saying marriage meant something "whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man". It sparked a backlash from more traditional Tories.
Mr Duncan Smith triggered a damaging revolt when he was party leader by ordering Tory MPs to vote against giving unmarried couples - both gay and straight - equal adoption rights. His report, due to be published on Monday, is expected to warn that a "radical reappraisal" of marriage policy is needed to prevent increased social tensions fuelling more violent crime. It will highlight statistics showing half of co-habiting couples split up by the time a child reaches the age of five compared with one in 12 who got married. Children of co-habiting couples "suffer enormously" he told the paper. "It's damaging their kids lives, it's damaging their lives. Most people are completely ignorant about the effect family breakdown has on their children's lives," he said.
Where to start? If IDS really thinks that only half a percent of people in Britain are gay then he is living in a fantasy world. His remarks will cause tremendous offence to the gay community. Surely the most important thing is for children to be brought up in a stable, loving environment? Of course it is the norm for children to be brought up by two parents who are married. He is right that children can lose out by being brought up by a lone parent. But if IDS is saying that a gay or lesbian couple is not capable of bringing up a child in a stable, loving and caring environment then he is so, so wrong. I have no idea how many gay couples have children - either their own or adopted - but there are a considerable (and increasing) number. I am sure they will be highly delighted to be described as 'irrelevant'.
David Cameron rightly says that the Conservative Party must reflect Britain as it is today. These comments, made by the head of David Cameron's Social Justice Policy Group, do not fit in with that sentiment.
I support any move to promote the institution of marriage. It is at the heart of our society. Successive governments have undermined it. But supporting marriage does not mean we have to rail against single parents or gay relationships and describe them as 'irrelevant'. Surely to God the Conservative Party has learned that lesson over the last decade, if nothing else. Iain Duncan Smith, I am disappointed in you.
UPDATE: Iain Duncan Smith has told the BBC HERE that his remarks have been twisted and taken out of context. He said a factual response had been "distorted into an alleged slur on gay couples". He added "I was asked about gay couples in the context of the scale and impact of family breakdown. I said that they were not relevant to the report of the social justice policy group because only a tiny number have children."
UPDATE: Ultra Conservative US Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, is quoted in today's Sunday Times saying: "What matters is that children are raised in a loving and supportive environment and there's no reason why that can't be provided by a same-sex couple." Quite.
UPDATE: On the Politics Show, IDS clarified his remarks on gay parenting. He said: "In terms of what effect they have on child rearing and therefore how they would change or displace our figures, then there are so few bringing up children that either way it's not going to make any change. It was in no way a judgment about gay couples bringing up children, if they are bringing them up well then well done, good luck to them, that's exactly what we believe in - structure and stability are important."