Dominic Grieve, Attorney General of England and Wales and Magdalen alumni, has caused controversy after saying that “being a practising homosexual” is “thought to be a little bit weird by large numbers of people.’
”The Union’s most famous annual debate, ‘This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’, was attended by key members of the Government and Opposition – including Grieve and Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Minister for Borders & Immigration.
Bryant’s speech discussed the peculiarity of the term ‘practising’ homosexual, in jest adding that “it implied one can get better over time”. Grieve interjected, “I think being a practising homosexual is a bit like being a practising member of the Church of England. It’s one of those things which you have to explain. It’s thought to be a little bit weird by large numbers of people.”
Bryant asked Grieve to clarify as he claimed to be insulted by the comment. Grieve argued that ithe quote was taken out of context and was eventually asked to “stop digging” by Bryant.
In response to the debate, he retrospectively clarified his comments, “My remarks about the use of the expressions “practising homosexual” and “practising Christian” were illustrative of the prejudices of others and not of my own views and was made in response to a question Chris Bryant had himself raised as to why the first of these expressions was used. Chris Bryant initially gave the impression that he was offended by this remark.’
‘This is why I intervened again to tell him he had no grounds for being offended and he indicated that he accepted this.”He added, “It is always possible in what was a fast moving and good humoured debate to express oneself less well than one would wish. If I was misunderstood by anyone because I expressed myself poorly then I am very sorry for it.”
Noah Evans Harding, a Committee Member of the Union, came to Grieve’s defence, saying, “I thoroughly enjoyed his speech. Union debates are intense, especially political ones such as the ‘No Confidence’ debate . Things get said in the heat of the moment. I do not believe that any of his words were malicious. Anyone who was there could tell you that. His attempts to explain himself immediately afterwards showed genuine sorrow about what he said.” However, there has been considerable criticism from the student community particularly from equal rights activists.
As mentioned by Chris Bryant in the debate, Mr Grieve’s voting record shows opposition to equal gay rights. Whilst he has voted for the Civil Partnerships Bill in the House of Lords, he has formed part of the minority against all other Bills for equal rights. He voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, creating criminal offences for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; the Adoptions and Children Bill 2002, allowing homosexual couples to adopt children and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 1999, reducing the age homosexual acts were permitted from 18 to 16.
Simone Webb, President of the LGBTQ Society, commented, “I condemn what was said. It sounds attention seeking and he should not have said what he did”. Exeter’s JCR Equalities Officer said, “In the strongly pro LGBTQ Exeter JCR such comments would go down very badly. If Dominic Grieve wasn’t being homophobic, some union members certainly found him insensitive. I can see Dominic Grieve could have intended to draw attention to such language without condoning it. For someone so experienced in public speaking, many people at the debate do not feel he made the point clearly at all.”
He added, “The Union is nothing if not committed to free speech, so I’m sure members made their thoughts on Dominic Grieve very clear at the time. The Union might put some thought into its reputation though.”
A second year lawyer opined, “As a distinguished QC and the Attorney General, the main legal advisor to the Government, I find it worrying that he seemingly did not think twice about what he said. His position in the legal world and mere consideration of who he is representing would alone necessitate greater thought in such a public forum.’