Liberal Democrat leadership contender Simon Hughes acknowledged on Thursday he had had homosexual relationships, after twice having denied to newspapers that he was gay.
“I am perfectly willing to say that I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past,” party president Hughes, 54, told the Sun.
“I hope that does not disqualify me from doing a good job in public life and I propose to carry on doing that with the usual enthusiasm and determination,” he told the tabloid.
Last weekend, Mark Oaten, another one-time leadership candidate, quit as Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman after revelations of a relationship with a male prostitute.
Another blow for Liberal Democrats
Hughes’ announcement was the third major blow in the space of a month for the party. Earlier in January, party leader Charles Kennedy resigned after admitting a drinking problem he had previously denied.
Hughes’ acknowledgement of his homosexual past came just a week after he had denied being gay to The Independent newspaper.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday, Hughes said he was sorry for his comments to the newspaper.
“I apologize if misled people, I apologize if I unintentionally gave the wrong impression. ... I had relations with women and men so stereotyping and pigeon-holing is not actually that easy,” the MP said.
Hughes, who unlike Oaten is single, said he considered withdrawing his party leadership bid but decided to remain in the race and is still competing against foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell and economics spokesman Chris Huhne.
Campbell, 64, considered a safe pair of hands, is the bookies’ favorite.
“It would be very sad if people who have always been single or who are homosexual felt that their sexuality prevented them from holding high office,” Hughes told the Sun.
“Perhaps in the last few days I was overly defensive over questions about my sexuality,” he added. “I have always been open in the past and I regret I was overly defensive last week. That was a mistake.”
Voters in Hughes’ inner London constituency had mixed views.
“It is his private life but that doesn’t give him the right to lie,” Lyndsay Walker, 32, told Reuters. “I think he shouldn’t be trusted as a party leader.”
“Whether he is gay or not, that shouldn’t be the issue,” said Mark McGraph, a 39-year-old banker. “It’s his personal life and he can do whatever he likes as long as it doesn’t affect his work with the party.”
IT specialist Eleanor Davies, 25, said she could understand why Hughes might have been concerned about being open about his sexuality.
“I think perhaps he was worried that if he revealed his homosexuality it would have affected his popularity,” she said. “That seems like a pretty good reason to me for his actions.”
'Never been hypocritical'
Alan Wardle, a spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall, said Hughes was a long-standing supporter of gay rights and his voting record in parliament proved that.
“He has never been hypocritical,” Wardle told Reuters. “He has always supported gay rights.
“Hopefully this will be a lesson for politicians that the more open they are about who they are, the better it is for them and society as a whole.”
Hughes won his parliamentary seat in 1983 against gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, then a Labour Party candidate.
The Liberal Democrats presented Hughes then as the “straight choice” while Tatchell was smeared by political rivals.
But Hughes himself was never directly involved in the homophobic campaigning and has since apologized for its anti-gay nature.
Results of the contest to lead Britain’s third-largest party will be announced on March 2.