Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said yesterday that he does not believe gay sex is a sin, following criticism that he repeatedly failed to clarify his views.

“I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” he said. “I take the view that, as a political leader though, my job is not to pontificate on theological matters.”

But Farron suggested he should be judged by his voting record, not his religious beliefs, saying: “What counts is your actions and your beliefs in politics.” And he claimed to have a “track record” of over 30 years of campaigning in favour of LGBT rights.

But that claim is misleading.

FactCheck analysed his voting record, dating back to 2005, and identified 22 instances where he voted on same sex marriage or other LGBTQ issues. On the whole, he has voted in favour of equal rights, but there are some notable exceptions. They generally relate to the right of individuals to uphold their personal beliefs and include:

  • Voting against a law that made it illegal for public services to be denied to gay people
  • Voting to allow registrars not to carry out gay marriages if they object on religious grounds
  • Voting to increase protections for people who don’t want to conduct or participate in a same sex marriage ceremony
  • Voting to make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their beliefs about the definition of marriage

Farron also abstained from a key vote on legalising gay marriage, despite voting in favour of it previously.

Equality Act

In 2007, he went against his party by voting against the landmark Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which criminalised many types of discrimination against gay people. The law was ultimately passed and hailed by campaigners as a major step forward towards greater equality.

In particular, the Act made it illegal for public services to be denied to people on the grounds of their sexuality. Before this, there were concerns about adoption agencies turning away gay teenagers and lesbians being denied smear tests.

Farron voted against this legislation, but appears to have been vague about it ever since.

Ben Summerskill, who was chief executive of Stonewall at the time, told FactCheck that he visited Farron a few months after the 2007 vote to ask why he’d tried to block it.

According to Summerskill, Farron was not clear about his reasons and the Lib Dem eventually suggested that he may have misunderstood the legislation. Farron promised to write to him to giving a full explanation for his vote, but never did, Summerskill claimed. 

A Lib Dem spokesperson told us: “I was in that meeting and that’s not my recollection.”

The Liberal Democrat was also vague about the vote when journalists from Pink News, one of whom formerly worked for Channel 4 News, questioned him on it in 2015. When told that he voted against the Equality Act, Farron denied it, saying: “I don’t think I did.”

When the journalists insisted that he had, Farron said: “Well, I’ve changed my position since then.” He explained in the same interview: “We had an amendment that I think was defeated, which tried to deal with some of the issues about protections. My recollection is that amendment was not accepted – I could not therefore support the [Sexual Orientation] regulations.”

Same sex marriage

Farron has said he regrets his decision to abstain from a key vote on gay marriage, when the Bill was in its third reading in the Commons. His abstention came despite him previously voting in favour of the Bill during the previous stages.

In 2015 he told the Observer“There were a couple of amendments that were about the protection of essentially religious minorities, conscience protections, and I kind of voted for those. Me doing something like that, which is about protecting people’s right to conscience, I definitely regret it, if people have misread that and think that means I’m lukewarm on equal marriage.”

Tim Farron has certainly supported LGBT causes on occasion, but there are also significant instances where he has not. His claim of a track record in consistently campaigning for equal LGBT rights over three decades doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.

In response to Channel 4 News a Lib Dem spokesperson pointed to many causes that Tim Farron has supported as an MP and party leader, including supporting an end to the gay blood ban in 2014 and a posthumous pardon for thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under historic sexual offence laws.

The spokesperson said: “Tim believes you should be allowed to be who you are and that no one has the right to tell you or anyone who you can be or who you can love. Love is love.

“He has have always fought for human rights, for LGBT rights, for the rights of all minorities because that’s what liberals do. Tim and the party have a proud record on LGBT rights.”