The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is facing accusations of homophobia following comments by their candidate in the Croydon North by-election.
Winston McKenzie said that some people “pretend” to be gay but that he would “sympathise” with people who really are. He argued that it was not "normal" for two men to kiss each other and “unhealthy” for children to be adopted by same-sex couples.
In addition to contesting the by-election, McKenzie is UKIP's spokesperson on culture, media and sport.
His comments, in an interview with the Croydon Advertiser, follow several weeks in which he has focused on his opposition to same-sex marriage. He yesterday (26 November) reiterated an accusation that other parties would force faith groups to host same-sex marriage ceremonies against their will, although all parties have stated that they are against this.
“Some people take on being gay as a sort of fashion," claimed McKenzie. “Celebrities come out to become more well known.”
He added, “It's a fact of life that some people actually are gay. They are what they are. They can't help it but the other bunch take on being gay as a fashion and push it because they have nothing better to do with their lives. They let the side down."
He said that “People can't help their sexuality or how they were born. I can only sympathise with anyone who is gay.”
The UKIP candidate also told the Metro that allowing a child to be adopted by a same-sex couple is an “abuse” of the child.
He argued, “To say to a child, 'I am having you adopted by two men who kiss regularly but don't worry about it' – that is abuse. It is a violation of a child's human rights because that child has no opportunity to grow up under normal circumstances.”
Last night, Winston McKenzie refused to withdraw a comment made on Twitter in which he said that “other parties back” the idea of forcing churches to host same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Christian writer Symon Hill had asked McKenzie to withdraw the comment, saying that it was misleading. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is offering only civil marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples. The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties want to allow faith groups to host same-sex weddings if they choose to do so, but no party advocates making it compulsory.
The chair of UKIP's London region, David Coburn, tried this morning (27 November) to distance UKIP from their candidate's comments. “Mr Mackenzie absolutely does not speak for UKIP on the issues of gay marriage and gay adoption,” he said.
Coburn added that UKIP “are categorically not against gay adoption” but believe that adoption agencies should be allowed to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
UKIP's leader Nigel Farage is now facing pressure to clarify his own position on the issue and to answer accusations that his party is homophobic. There has as yet been no indication that McKenzie will be removed from his role as UKIP's culture spokesperson.
Farage and his colleagues have been seeking to portray the right-wing party as a moderate force after it was revealed at the weekend that Rotherham Council had removed foster children from the care of a couple who belong to the party. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, described UKIP as “a mainstream party”.
Responding to McKenzie's comments, Ben Summerskill of Stonewall said, “These nineteenth century views are not acceptable in the twenty-first century”.
Symon Hill, who is an associate director of the Ekklesia thinktank, said, “As a bisexual Christian, I find it particularly offensive that Winston McKenzie should justify his prejudices by reference to his faith.”
He explained, “McKenzie's comments are not the thoughtful observations of someone who happens to hold a conservative view on sexuality; they appear as a rambling collection of unsubstantiated allegations. Far from pretending to be gay, social and religious pressures have more often led to gay and bisexual people pretending to be straight.”