It’s Time to End Tax Breaks for Anti-Gay Charities – including churches

There is no underestimating the difference that a change in the law can make to people who happen to be gay or lesbian. Civil Partnerships gave a level of legal protection that changed people’s lives forever. Equal marriage extended that protection by giving people the chance of being able to be regarded as equally fit to enter the institution of marriage. It was about more than rights – it was about dignity too.

However, notwithstanding the great gains that have been made in recent years, the journey is not over. We have established that people of goodwill are prepared to champion gay rights whether or not they happen to be gay themselves. The time has come to begin working on the next step on the journey.

We must be eager to ensure that children receive age appropriate sex education that is inclusive of LGBT identities. We must be sure that governments pursue foreign policy that is works towards extending the rights that LGBT people in the UK possess to those in other countries. But we must not rest there. There are still real things that need to be done in the UK where a change in the law can make a material difference to gay lives.

Today I propose a new change that is worth campaigning for – it’s time to campaign for the government to remove the charitable status of any organisation that campaigns against gay people. It is a simple change to the law but an important one.

There are still many organisations that take an anti-gay position in public. Very many of them get tax-breaks through the Gift Aid system by becoming charities. It’s time to end tax-breaks for those who work to limit gay rights.

Will this ever come about?

When I first started campaigning on reforming marriage law to include lesbian and gay people, most of the people I spoke to, including many who ultimately became core activists simply didn’t believe that it was worth the time of day as it would never happen. The change I’m proposing today is much easier to enact.

Why should there be effective government sponsorship of homophobic organisations?

Why should any UK tax-payers have to live with so-called charitable organisations campaigning against them?

Charities which tried to campaign against people because of their race would soon have their charitable status removed. Why not those who campaign against gay people?

The time has come. Time for change. It’s time to remove the charitable status if any organisation campaigning against LGBT people.

Q and A
Would this mean curtailing freedom of speech?
No – organisations and individuals would be free to say whatever they liked within the law. A charity simply could not receive Gift Aid support in any given year if it were to campaign against LGBT people during that year.

Isn’t this persecution of Christians?

No – this change is proposed by a Christian priest and would apply to all charities.

Would church congregations lose their charitable status?

There’s no reason for church congregations to lose their charitable status so long as they don’t campaign against the rights of LGBT people. As there is strong and increasing support for LGBT people in the pews (if not amongst Christian leaders) this is something that many Christians will campaign for. Some denominations might prefer to be free to forego their charitable status in order to continue anti-gay campaigns. Others will not.

What about the Muslims/Catholics/Evangelicals?
This policy would apply across the board to all charities.

How can this be brought about?

Engagement with activist organisations, within charities and with those seeking election.

Isn’t charity law devolved – why would it be appropriate for people in Scotland to bring this up during a Westminster election?

Some charities registered in England campaign against gay rights in Scotland (eg the Mothers’ Union). This is an issue facing both the UK as a whole as well as Scotland.

Would this cost tax-payers money?
No – just the opposite. Money that formerly had been given to anti-gay organisations would hitherto be available to the government to spend on the common good.

Further questions and comments welcome.

The Joy of Tax

I voted in yesterday’s local election. I’ll readily confess that it was less of a pleasure than it usually is as I was not particularly excited about the vote I cast. However, civic duty is civic duty and the fact that I can vote matters more than the actual people I voted for.

I had two predictions about these local elections in my New Year Predictions. In January, I said:

  • There will be further significant losses for the Liberal Democrats who will face a wipe-out in local elections north of the border. The message from party leaders will be that we need to keep on with current policies, times were bound to be hard, it was always going to be difficult, government is tricky but it will all be worth it in the end. Activists will pour scorn in private and increasingly in public. The country will refuse to be fooled (this time).
  • Labour will lose control of Glasgow City Council but Obama will retain the White House though America will seem more divided than ever. We might hope that he governs more bravely if he does get four more years.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Obama manages to retain control of the White House, but I don’t think I’m going to be far off when it comes to the rest.
The reality of the situation for the Liberal Democrats is that they are not going to be elected at any level unless there is a new leader and one who represents a clean break from the past. Yes, it is boring to say so, but the Tuition Fees debacle really was that serious a loss of trust. It was that serious because it was such a potent symbol of trust being lost on other issues.

One of the interesting things about the prediction I made in January is that some of the Lib Dem activists that I know said rather mournfully to me, “Yes, it will be bad in Scotland but, you know, this isn’t playing out as badly in England – it isn’t going to be as bad down there, just you wait and see”.

Well, I harumphed a bit about that in January and I harumph about it now.

The most frustrating thing about the local elections this time for me has been the absence of any real debate about local taxation or local services. I don’t feel as though I’ve been engaged by any of the political parties about that. The SNP seem more interested in the idea that winning Glasgow might be a stepping stone to independence than about providing adequate services to the city. Labour have seemed intent on ripping their local party to pieces and establishing one remnant as a permanent opposition. The Tory party are not a local fighting force. The Liberal Democrats, whom I do still, despite everything, feel supportive of, are being harried out of existence. Then there are the other parties – the Green’s whom I always feel I ought to want to support, Britannica, which I certainly don’t feel I want to support, various socialist factions and a ghastly right-wing Christian party that chills the blood.

One cannot say one wants for choice.

I’ve been very frustrated by the main players making a big deal out of freezing council tax this time. However did we get into a position where council tax has been frozen? Populist it may be. Stupid it certainly is. Freezing council tax hands power away from local government to the next tier up – Holyrood in our case. It also means squeezing public services beyond recognition.

When I was a local government candidate, I spent a lot of my time on pavement politics. It was said at one time that there was not a single pot-hole in Bridge of Allan that was so unglamorous that I would refuse to have my photograph taken by it. However, I was trying to make a point – that local services matter.

Last week my car had its MOT and needed quite a lot of work done on its suspension. “Ah, pot-holes!” said the garage manager with a fair degree of pleasure.

I’d rather pay a couple of pounds a year more in council tax and get decent roads than have a frozen council tax and a large bill when it comes to the MOT.

And therein lies my frustration with local government at the moment.

I believe in the joy of tax but, more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.