LGBT candidates in UK elections: how much has changed?

On March 6 the Constitution Unit hosted a panel discussion on LGBT candidates in UK elections, exploring the UK parliament’s evolution to including more openly LGBT politicians than any other state legislature. The panel, chaired by Dr Jennifer Hudson, consisted of Professor Andrew Reynolds and four of the UK’s most prominent LGBT politicians: Angela Eagle, Baroness (Liz) Barker, Nick Herbert and Joanna Cherry. Evangelina Moisi reports.

Introducing the seminar on LGBT candidates in UK elections, Professor Andrew Reynolds posed a question to the audience: why do people care about the sexual orientation of candidates and elected officials any more? Over the past few decades, the UK has undergone major transformations in its treatment of LGBT citizens, including abolishing Section 28 in 2003 and legalising gay marriage in 2013. The UK parliament has also become the most inclusive parliament for LGBT representation in the world, with 39 ‘out’ LGBT MPs. Despite this political (r)evolution Reynolds suggested that not everything is settled: homophobia and transphobia are still significant in today’s society and present challenges for both adults and children in navigating their everyday lives.

This seminar provided the opportunity to understand the perspectives and narratives of those who have lived through this experience. Reynolds underscored that as ‘out’ LGBT politicians the members of the panel have all overcome significant hurdles to transform political life, values, and the laws of today.

Professor Andrew Reynolds

Opening the seminar, Reynolds presented highlights from some of his research, noting that the number of LGBT parliamentarians is still a tiny slice of the world’s representation. Only 0.4% of the 46,000 parliamentarians around the world identify as LGBT. However, the parties with significant representation in the House of Commons are among the most LGBT inclusive in the world – the Conservatives and Labour have 17 and 14 LGBT MPs respectively, whilst the SNP’s 8 (out of 54 MPs) makes them the ‘gayest’ parliamentary group in the world. Reynolds further elaborated that right-of-centre parties have actually overtaken left-of-centre parties in terms of LGBT MPs, in the UK and around the world. Gay rights have become less of a partisan issue, with conservatives becoming socially liberal but remaining economically conservative.

At the 2015 UK general election 154 LGBT candidates standing in England, Scotland, and Wales, enabling Reynolds to explore whether being an LGBT candidate was still an electoral liability. His research found that LGBT candidates did not perform worse than their straight colleagues and, perhaps surprisingly, gay candidates performed better in rural areas (a 2% boost). He also found that LGBT candidates did only slightly worse in areas with high Muslim populations. At the party level, LGBT Labour candidates performed better than their straight counterparts whereas LGBT Conservative candidates performed much better than their straight counterparts in winnable Conservative seats.

On a final note, Reynolds discussed Chris Smith’s ‘coming-out’ in 1984. Whilst the moment was greeted with a media backlash at the time, Smith is now the Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and has returned to the highest echelons of British society as a gay, HIV-positive man. Reynolds emphasised that such dramatic changes in political life have been driven by the likes of Smith and the LGBT politicians present on the panel.

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Slovakia, Constitutions and LGBT rights – religious motivations or political bargaining?

Annabelle Huet looks at the motivations and wider implications of European constitutions which seek to ban gay marriage.

On June 4th 2014, Slovakia became the twelfth country in Europe to enshrine an indirect ban on same-sex unions in its constitution. With the required two-thirds majority, the constitution was amended to redefine marriage as the “unique bond between a man and a woman”, thereby implicitly excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry.  This is not an isolated case in Eastern Europe, and certainly not in the world.

In December last year, Croatia entrenched a similarly restrictive definition of marriage in its constitution by popular initiative. In the same way, Romania saw a series of debates in 2013 centre on redefining marriage in both the country’s legislation and Constitution. The Constitution was not amended in the end, and after pressure from LGBT groups, neither was the law, but on the other hand, a bill introducing same-sex civil partnerships was defeated in March this year.

Only five countries in the world explicitly ban same-sex unions in their constitutions: Burundi, Honduras, Seychelles, Uganda and Zimbabwe. However, a vast majority of countries define marriage as a union between a man and a woman only, essentially restricting the right to marry to heterosexuals. Within the European Union for instance, the constitutions of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria define marriage in such a way.

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