Following Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom’s decision to quit the race for leader of the UK Conservative Party, Home Secretary Theresa May is set to be the next Prime Minister and may perhaps succeed David Cameron within the next few days. While May is an arguably much better choice for LGBT+ individuals in the UK than Leadsom (depending how you feel on other issues, as well), her record on equal rights is noticeably (but acceptably) mixed.
May’s LGBT-related voting record starts with more than a few blemishes, including 2001 and 2002 votes against LGBT adoption, and a vote in 1998 against lowering the age of consent. But most of these blemishes present themselves very early on in her parliamentary career, and like many politicians of the day, her voting record shows how quickly the developed world is coming around to the idea of equal rights.
In 2004 May joined dozens of Conservative MPs in voting in favor of civil partnerships in the UK, and slowly she began to come around to the idea of LGBT equality. In the same period of time, so too was the country. As more people felt comfortable coming out, being open, and spreading the idea that “Gay is okay”, the nation experienced a slow yet steady revolution.
In 2010 May supported the Labour party’s anti-discrimination Equality Act, and in that same year she publicly stated her desire to tackle homophobia as she became Home Secretary. In 2013 May joined 116 other Tories in voting for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK.
May’s evolution epitomizes the progression of LGBT rights in the UK over the same time frame. In just 1999, a mere 17 years ago, polling showed over half of every major religion in the UK (including “no religion”) found homosexuality to be “wrong,” according to BSA surveys. The difference today is staggering, with those numbers having been cut almost in half. Across other developed nations on Earth, the same trend is visible. In the US, homosexual and LGBT acceptance is up by over 26% since 1999 in Gallup’s surveys, and same-sex marriage has become legal since 2003 in Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Luxembourg, Ireland, Colombia, Denmark, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Finland, the UK, and the US. Civil unions and other LGBT rights have also advanced exponentially over the same time period.
By looking at May and the socially conservative Tories and seeing their progression as well as the progression of many other socially conservative parties and politicians all around the world, one can see the opposition to common sense finally beginning to come around.
While homophobia within the Conservatives (and certainly other parties), may still exist in the hearts and minds of some MPs, it’s clearly becoming much harder to justify on the national stage. As May steps into 10 Downing Street and inevitably angers left-wingers all across the UK, it’s worth remembering sometimes how far the Tories have come.