Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Why I’ve put the whip away for the Equal Marriage vote

Everybody knows that the first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.

I am no Brad Pitt but the same is also true of the Whips’ Office.

It is not normally my practice to discuss whipping arrangements for the parliamentary party, nor to discuss publicly the process by which decisions are reached. Today, however, I am prepared (exceptionally) to do so and to explain the decision taken last night to allow Liberal Democrat MPs a free vote on the Equal Marriage Bill when it comes to the House of Commons next month.

As I explained at Federal Conference in September I take as my starting point that as this is a government bill brought forward by a government minister in government time then votes will be whipped. That is, however, what lawyers would call a rebuttable presumption and the Conservative and Labour Parties having declared this to be a free vote for their MPs it would be wrong for me not to take the views of my colleagues before making a decision for Liberal Democrat MPs.

Accordingly the parliamentary party discussed the issue at its weekly meeting last night. The view of my parliamentary colleagues that came up time and again was that they supported equal marriage and were keen to see it on the statute book. They wanted, in fact, not just to support the bill but to be seen to support it because they do and not because they have been told to. Incidentally no MP who spoke in the discussion last night opposed the idea of equal marriage. That is not to say that a few of my colleagues do not have significant concerns about the proposal as I know that some do. I strongly suspect that any colleague who does harbour doubts would not have these doubts addressed just by the application of an instruction to the vote.

I should stress at this stage that the only decision we have made is on the second reading vote – the broad principle of the bill – for all other votes my initial presumption of whipping still applies. For any other vote to be a free vote there would have to be a genuine element of conscience. Merely being a vote on this bill will not automatically make it a free vote.

Obviously there would be an opportunity for us to maintain a distinctive position by whipping votes on this bill while others did not. Against that, however, we have to weigh some significant disadvantages. Principal of these, in my view, would be that for us to whip votes would leave us open to attack on the process which would be used as a proxy for the substance. Where our arguments are strong on the substance of the issue to leave ourselves unnecessarily exposed on process makes little sense to me.

Ultimately there is an element of judgement involved here. For those who feel that this is an issue of equality and not conscience (a view for which I am personally not without sympathy) I would say this: judge us by the outcome we achieve. I believe that we shall be successful in implementing our equal marriage proposals and that the vast majority of Liberal Democrat MPs and peers will play their part in doing so.

Finally, I hope that as a party, as we advance the case for equal marriage in the debate we shall give credit to Nick Clegg, Lynne Featherstone, Jo Swinson, LGBT+ Lib Dems and others who have done so much to get this issue so far. They have taken it this far. It is now for the rest of us to get it over the finishing line.

* Alistair Carmichael MP is Secretary of State for Scotland and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

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68 Comments

  • i support the legislation itself as long as no religious institution will be forced to conduct gay marriages against its will.

    For the sake of pragmatism, and in the interests of making progress on this issue and others like it, allowing religious institutions to continue to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be unacceptable is a price we have to pay. However, I don’t see any reason why they should be excused in principle or why their views should be respected. Ideally they should conduct all marriages regardless of gender mix or none at all.

  • A lot of people have sincerely held beliefs that are not tolerated by society at large or in law. I think the liberal ideal that everyone should be able to participate fully in society without suffering discrimination outranks the other liberal ideal that everybody should be free to do whatever they want.

  • From a practical point of view Mr Carmichael the C4EM website (http://www.c4em.org.uk/support-for-equal-marriage/) is currently showing 41 lib dem MPs will vote for same sex marriage and 16 are unknow (ie over 28% of the party). To enable everyone to know exactly how many of your party are not suportive of equality isn’t it better for us to know who these MPS are. Personally I want to know who doesn’t support it and who does. It’s up to you what you do with the whip but we as voters need to know who is going to vote for SSM. PLEASE be honest and let us know.

  • Liberal Neil 12th Dec '12 - 10:29pm

    I distinguish between what the law of the state says about a legal marriage- which should treat everyone equally – and what the rules of a particular church say about a religious marriage. Each church is an organisation which people choose to join and should be allowed to make their own decisions as far as religious matters are concerned.

  • Alex Matthews 12th Dec '12 - 10:43pm

    Jedi, we are not forcing marriage on them, have you even read the Bill? This law will ‘allow’ churches to perform marriage services for gay couples because at this time all religious organisations are forbidden from doing so by law. Surely the law should allow the churches to decide, this law is giving you more rights, not less. o0

    Also in regards to your first point:

    Some rights a civil partnership misses out on

    Status as “next-of-kin” for hospital visits and medical decisions
    Right to make a decision about last rites
    Right to make a decision about the disposal of loved ones remains
    Immigration and residency for partners from other countries
    Automatic inheritance in the absence of a will
    Crime victims recovery benefits
    Domestic violence protection orders
    Judicial protections and immunity
    Spousal veterans benefits
    Social Security
    Joint parental rights of children
    Joint adoption
    Joint filing of tax returns
    Wrongful-death benefits for surviving partner and children
    Bereavement or sick leave to care for partner or children
    Child support
    Joint Insurance Plans
    Tax credits including: Child tax credit, Hope and lifetime learning credits
    Deferred Compensation for pension and IRAs
    Estate and gift tax benefits
    Welfare and public assistance
    Joint housing for elderly
    Credit protection

  • This is just bizarre. Are we going to have a free vote on the secret courts bill so our MPs can be seen to oppose it because they disagree with it and not because they are told to?

  • “This is just bizarre. Are we going to have a free vote on the secret courts bill so our MPs can be seen to oppose it because they disagree with it and not because they are told to?”

    Have I missed something? Lib Dem MPs are going to be whipped to support secret courts – and probably even to overturn the additional conditions on their use introduced by the Lords – are they not?

  • “Some rights a civil partnership misses out on”

    And as outlined here – http://jaekaygoesforth.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/my-response-to-coalitions-response-to.html – the surviving partner may miss out on pension benefits in respect of decades of employment. Unfortunately it seems that this will also be the case for public servants in same-sex marriages under the proposed legislation. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that this government’s commitment to equality stops at the point where it will cost money.

  • I am uneasy about some of the lengths that we seem to be going to to protect churches and other religious groups from pressure to perform gay marriage.

    If a church refused to marry black people — doubtless for “good” doctrinal reasons — a charge of race discrimination would follow, ultimately because of the damage such discrimination on grounds of race does. I’m not sure that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation does any less harm.

    The reality is that a gay couple would be daft to seek to get married in a church that didn’t want them — so the issue doesn’t really arise — but trying too hard to safeguard the position of people’s religious convictions does risk being
    another form of discrimination.

  • Alex where is that list from. The point on intestacy wouldn’t seem to be correct for a start:
    http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_home/civil_partnership/2618.asp.

    And I’m not sure about the tax credits point either:
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/2919/memorandum/contents

    I did once spend a very boring two days updating a statute database with an SI that basically inserted the words “or Civil Partnership” after every occurance of “marriage”. It left me with the opinion that that was a great deal of equivalance. When I’ve asked people about this the major issue seems to be about international recognition.

  • Alan Beith MP, Annette Brooke MP, Paul Burstow MP, Duncan Hames MP, John Hemming MP, Mark Hunter MP, Charles Kennedy MP, Norman Lamb MP, Greg Mulholland MP, John Pugh MP, Bob Russell MP, Adrian Sanders MP, Robert Smith MP, Sarah Teather MP, John Thurso MP, and Mark Williams MP.

    All 16 of these Liberal Democrat MPs are not voting for marriage equality according the C4EM website http://www.c4em.org.uk/support-for-equal-marriage/ – What are their reasons for not doing so?

  • @Alex
    I’m also wondering were that list came from, this from the bbc website:
    “The law accords civil partners equitable treatment for important financial matters, such as inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance and maintenance where children are involved.

    It provides next of kin rights for couples, such as in their dealings with hospitals. Immigration and nationality rules take account of marriage when assessing someone’s right to stay in the UK – that rule is extended to civil partners.”
    ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4497348.stm )

  • “Incidentally no MP who spoke in the discussion last night opposed the idea of equal marriage. That is not to say that a few of my colleagues do not have significant concerns about the proposal as I know that some do. ”

    Dear Mr Carmichael it is very clearyl documented that there are 16 LIbDem MPs not in favour of gay marriage. None of these MP have publicly given any explanation on what their concerns are. You can’t simply make a statement like that without telling us what the reasons are behind their reluctance to speak out on this issue. Fair enough don’t have a whip but don’t pretend that the whole party are in favour of this. Clearly over a quarter of those elected are against it.

  • Ryan McAlister 13th Dec '12 - 2:30am

    In any case, I would imagine any Lib Dem MP who does vote against (and I would bet a huge sum it will be nowhere near 16) will say why when the issue comes to be debated in the commons.

    As will many who support it of course, as they did the other day with distinction.

  • Mark and Ryan – are you saying no-one has contacted these 16 MP to get ther view. I’m sure DELGA and C4EM have. Yet they still don’thave an opinion on the subject. Wouldn’t it be simpler and make Mr Carmichael ‘s life easier on this subject if they simply said they were in favour. Would we need to be arguing over whether we needed a whip over this issue if we knew that only 5% of the party was against rather than almost a third of it – which it seems at the moment unless some of these MPs can say otherwise.

  • I think a good case could be made for abandoning “the whip” entirely — let it be entirely clear to the party membership what the contents of their MP’s consciences consist of when they’re on their own.

  • Mark , Sir Alan Beith (one of the 16 unknows) spoke up about same sex marriage after Maria Miller made her announcement. He was more concerned about churches whose authority was with the congregations as opposed to a central body. He made no indication at that time he was in favour of SSM which was a very easy thing to do. I agree churches need their protections and the MPs can be concerned about that but I don’t see why they still can make it quite clear to us all now that they support the principle. If they did then a whip wouldn’t be an issue and your credibiliy as a party over this issue (backing out is not a good thing after initially announcing a whip) wouldn’t be at stake.

  • Andrew Suffield 13th Dec '12 - 9:38am

    Mark and Ryan – are you saying no-one has contacted these 16 MP to get ther view. I’m sure DELGA and C4EM have. Yet they still don’thave an opinion on the subject.

    Even that doesn’t hold up! It just means that nobody has bothered to send their response to c4em. And why should they? It’s just a random website.

    Equal marriage is an LD policy delivered by LD ministers, made possible by the coalition.

  • Whilst this is a fascinating insight into the workings of the whip’s office, I must say the whole piece is confusing and sheds no real light.

    I am amazed at the contention that if we were forcing our MPs to vote in favour this could be seen as a positive thing, but that the whips have decided not to do this.

    And as for the issue of conscience/equality, this has to be one of the clearest examples of a conscience issue.

    I personally favour the move to making marriage as “sexuality-blind” as it is colour-blind and class-blind, but I am very aware that some hold a deep conviction that this is not the right way. If someone agrees with all else Lib Dem (and God knows I struggle with lots of what is done in our name right now), they should be allowed to hold a dissenting view on this if we are truly liberal.

  • As one of a fairly select band of Lib Dems (1 in 6 according to this week’s YouGov) who does not support the gay marriage proposals as drafted, I welcome a free vote so that MPs will be able to act on their consciences, and have credibility in asking for safeguards to meet any concerns before supporting.

    Given the strength of feeling within the party I only hope that any Lib Dem MPs considering not supporting the motion have discussed their concerns with their local parties, always a wise move before rebelling on an issue which the majority of activists support. This is far more important than being on the right list on various campaign websites.

    Finally as ever let’s be careful with our language to opponents; in our zeal to show support for gay marriage we risk showing the same intolerance we preach against; remember there are a number of good Lib Dems on the other side of this issue whose votes we need to keep.

  • Astroturfing note: “Concerned”, “Ben” and “Vinny” all appear to be the same person. Normally in such cases we remove such comments as they give a false impression of multiple people agreeing with a view when in fact it is the same person. However, in this case we’ve left the comments up as there have been mutliple replies to them.

  • In another Party, far from putting them away, it is the season for getting the whips out, dressing up strangely and chasing helpless animals. Not always at the same time! :-)

    I would suggest that what we need is a state-defined concept of marriage which is legal and financial into which religious institutions can ‘buy into’ with their own practices or not as they see fit.

  • Alex Matthews 13th Dec '12 - 1:01pm

    @Jedi: “i accept the point, well made, but this is not an argument for forcing gay marriage on churches, surely?” I was responding to this comment. I could not understand why you kept referring to churches being forced to do it when they are clearly not being forced to conduct marriages here.

    @Chris, sorry, I copied that last night from a debate I had with an American lady and in my tired haste, I forgot to clarify that my post is looking at American law, not British law. Sorry, I hold my hands up whole heartily here and say I made a mistake. I am sorry for any confusion and thanks for pointing it out as currently makes things confusing.

  • Geoffrey Payne 13th Dec '12 - 1:04pm

    I am happy for there to be a free vote, I have no doubt the bill will be passed. It will be interesting to see how MPs vote on this. However I would like to know why this matter is considered a “matter of conscious” and therefore worthy of a free vote, but issues such as Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons is not a free vote?

  • Alex Matthews 13th Dec '12 - 1:40pm

    Fair enough.

  • I suppose it’s really one of those fundamental, perennial Liberal questions – whose rights supercede whose? Personally I’m quite relaxed about a free vote, because it gives people the opportunity to express their views freely and without obstruction, even if they were to disagree with a party policy.

    That said, I’d still like to see us move to a system similar to France, where the legal ceremony has to be dealt with by a registrar. After that, if you want a religious ceremony, you can have it in the Church – but legally, you’re already married. This gives the same rights to straight and gay couples, while still protecting the rights of the Church to follow its beliefs and teachings. In many ways much more Liberal, and something we should consider.

  • The first possible reason not to whip it is because it is not considered a core party policy. In other words liberalism, as the party defines it, is about something else. Therefore, people who wish to vote for a Lib Dem candidate in future are not guaranteed that such a candidate supports equal marriage – this may encourage or discourage them for voting for such a candidate in future, depending on what they think of equal marriage. Similarly, those who donate money to the party or pay membership dues may find that money being used to support a candidate who supports or opposes equal marriage, a proposition that again may be more or less attractive to a particular voter than only supporting candidates depending on what they think.
    The second possible reason, if I am cynical, is that the main focus at the next election is on individual MPs defending their own seats on their personal voting record, so they will able to do whatever is most popular in that particular seat. MPs with large religious “communities” in their seats can oppose and not lose votes.

    Overall I would say it is another sign of an attempted populist liberalism rather than the kind of libertarianism I personally believe in and it makes me more sure I was right not to renew in spring.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '12 - 12:46am

    I looked at the link which Chris posted at 11.29pm on 12 December and read the following:

    This has done little to appease the bug-eyed loons on the opposing side, which is understandable given that they won’t be appeased until LGBT folk are kept away from the “normal” folk.

    There has been rather a lot of this sort of language used by the supporters of this measure against its critics, even from the leader of the party, although he did withdraw that comment one is still left thinking perhaps it is what he was thinking underneath. Those critical of “equal marriage” for a variety of reasons have been lumped together and dismissed as homophobes who hate the very idea of any sort of same-sex relationship, even when they have explicitly made clear that is not their position.

    It seems to me that an atmosphere of intimidation has been created in which anyone in the party who might have wanted to put the other side is afraid to do so. I take the point that some of those 16 MPs who are not recorded as being in favour of it have simply not gone round to recording their support for it, but how many are there who are not in agreement but are afraid to say that openly?

  • Matthew

    Is it really so unreasonable to suspect that much of the opposition to these proposals stems from disapproval of homosexual relationships? The Roman Catholic church, for example, considers homosexual behaviour to be sinful, does it not? Is it just a coincidence that so many Roman Catholics are campaigning against these proposals, or is it because they believe homosexual relationships – or at least their physical expression – are wrong? The more I look at the arguments (or, rather, the more I ask for the arguments to be explained, and am met with silence), the more I think that what underlies the opposition is indeed the simple fact of disapproval of homosexual relationships.

  • @ Matthew It seems to me that an atmosphere of intimidation has been created in which anyone in the party who might have wanted to put the other side is afraid to do so.

    That doesn’t explain why there are so many people like you coming onto this board who self-identify as opponents of equal marriage. However, instead of putting the case for why only straight and not gay relationships should be counted as proper marriages, for example for the purpose of reciprocal rights in other countries. you simply talk about the behaviour of the other side. I respect you enough not to believe your “In Real Life” opinion on gay marriage is dependent on the behaviour of posters on Lib Dem Voice, which can only lead me to the conclusion that you have another motivation, which you are not wiling to share with us.

    (by the way, you asked in another thread how to get italics, it is possible to write the relevant HTML tags directly into your message).

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '12 - 11:04pm

    Richard S

    That doesn’t explain why there are so many people like you coming onto this board who self-identify as opponents of equal marriage. However, instead of putting the case for why only straight and not gay relationships should be counted as proper marriages, for example for the purpose of reciprocal rights in other countries. you simply talk about the behaviour of the other side

    “So many people”? It seems to me there is hardly anyone who is active in the Liberal Democrats and coming forward to put the case against. This is hardly surprising since from our leader downwards it’s been put forward that anyone who is opposed to this is some sort of irrational bigot. As a result, perhaps particularly people like myself who aren’t strongly worked up either way, but feel there are some valid concerns against the idea, are going to feel why damage one’s reputation in the party by coming forward and trying to express those concerns, it’s just political suicide, better keep quiet and go with the flow.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '12 - 11:09pm

    Richard S

    (by the way, you asked in another thread how to get italics, it is possible to write the relevant HTML tags directly into your message).

    It wasn’t me who was asking, I think it was someone asking me, seeing that I tend to put quotes in italics. I’ve used HTML for many years, I do know how to do it, in fact I can do other things as well.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '12 - 11:23pm

    Chris

    Is it really so unreasonable to suspect that much of the opposition to these proposals stems from disapproval of homosexual relationships? The Roman Catholic church, for example, considers homosexual behaviour to be sinful, does it not? Is it just a coincidence that so many Roman Catholics are campaigning against these proposals, or is it because they believe homosexual relationships – or at least their physical expression – are wrong? The more I look at the arguments (or, rather, the more I ask for the arguments to be explained, and am met with silence

    The RC Church’s line is more on the grounds that it is concerned that the aspect of marriage which is about co-operation to produce and bring up children is getting marginalised and instead marriage is getting seen as purely about “two people who love each other”. Remember, the RC Church is not a Protestant Evangelical Church, so it tends to make less use of the line “because God says so here in Chapter x verse y”.

    Yes, I’m a Catholic myself, and from this position am obviously more familiar with the official RC line than most contributors here. However, I don’t necessarily agree with all that line, and I am VERY wary of getting into an argument where, because I feel the other side needs it case to be put, I find myself putting arguments which I don’t necessarily personally agree with in order to defend those who actually do agree 100% with those arguments against false accusations being made against them and their motivation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 12:15am

    There’s an article in this week’s Catholic Herald taking the line “Because of gay marriage, should I vote UKIP?”. It isn’t coming out “yes”, but I am concerned that an obsession with such issues on the political left and a readiness to condemn anyone who does not take the orthodox liberal left line in crude terms such as that used by Nick Clegg against critics of gay marriage is pushing many towards the extreme political right, or is being used by the extreme political right to gain support. We can see this more so in the USA where there seems to have been a very cynical grabbing by the far economic right of naive Christians by focusing their attention onto a few issue like this. However, I don’t think this is helped by the left sometimes giving the impression it has abandoned any interest in justice for the economically deprived, and is now purely about what might loosely be called “political correctness”, that is, obsessiveness with what are actually fairly fringe issues.

    The Catholic Church in Britain used to be pretty much to the political left. In part this is because (at least in my opinion) Christian ethics as a whole fit in better with the politics of the left than the politics of the right, but it is also because in this country Catholicism is an anti-establishment force, its membership made up largely of poor immigrants and their descendants. In recent years I have seen a push to the political right amongst Catholics, caused by the closing of ranks on the political left towards anyone who does not adopt the left orthodox line on the sexual issue. I am not saying anyone on the politics left should agree with the official Catholic line on these things, but I do feel an intolerant attitude and a constant misrepresentation of that line is losing it support from people whose politics would otherwise be more of the left than the right.

  • Matthew, I don’t think that’s an accurate statement of the American political situation. The fusion between the theologically conservative Christians and the economic right was already well underway in 1980. The shift had already begun in the 1960s, and had been exploited by Nixon; there was a temporary shift back in the early years of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who also identified as a “born-again”, but in 1980 many evangelical leaders prominently identified themselves with the Reagan campaign, and they’ve never left the Republican Party since. In the meantime, right-wing economic doctrines have come to be presented as a religious mandate by conservative churches, and the dominance of evangelical element in the Republican party has been increasing and continues to increase. That’s why Republican candidates feel ill at ease if they are asked to express an opinion on whether species evolve or the Earth is older than 10,000 years.
    But this fusion, you will note, took place decades before the question of same-sex marriage ever came up, and was focused — and generally continues to focus — on the availability of abortion. Concerns over same-sex marriage were made into a campaign issue in 2004, with some success, but largely as a base consolidating issue, not as a means of reaching new voters — the people who were persuadable on that issue were largely going to vote Republican anyway. The issue had much less prominence in 2008, and was almost invisible in 2012, despite major shifts toward same-sex marriage in the meantime. There are several possible reasons for this (in 2008 it was certainly overshadowed by economic issues) but one significant one is that same-sex marriage has been legal in several U.S. states for years now, and the dire consequences which were once prophesied (decay of the family, rising divorce, loss of social cohesion, rampant promiscuity, disasters of Biblical proportions) have utterly failed to appear. There doesn’t even seem to be any confusion about the meaning of the word “marriage”.

  • “The RC Church’s line is more on the grounds that it is concerned that the aspect of marriage which is about co-operation to produce and bring up children is getting marginalised and instead marriage is getting seen as purely about “two people who love each other”.”

    But that illustrates my point perfectly. This “line” obviously makes no sense at all as an argument against same-sex marriage, because the church is quite happy to marry heterosexual couples who are incapable of producing children. Certainly they can adopt children and bring them up, but so can same-sex couples.

    The sheer illogicality of that argument is what makes me think that the real reason for the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage is its declared belief that homosexual behaviour is sinful. In fact, that is perfectly obvious, isn’t it?

    I have to say I’m still waiting to hear your own arguments against same-sex marriage. It would be disappointing if they were as logically fallacious as that one. It would be equally disappointing if you said you were opposing same-sex marriage because, although you could think of no logical argument against it, you were offended by what had been said by some people who were in favour of it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 9:23am

    David

    But this fusion, you will note, took place decades before the question of same-sex marriage ever came up, and was focused — and generally continues to focus — on the availability of abortion.

    Sorry, I note there was a typo in what I wrote, it should have been “sexual issues” in the plural, not “sexual issue”, so perhaps you mistook what I meant due to that. You seem to be implying I meant that gay marriage was THE issue pushing Christians to the political right. No, what I meant was that sexual issues in general are being exploited by the political right in this way, so I did very much have abortion in mind as well.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 9:54am

    In response to comments here, I have checked the official position of the RC Church in England and Wales, which can be found here. I am not saying Liberal Democrats have to agree with it, I am not saying I agree with it. The main point I am trying to make is that what appears here is what those who are in favour of gay marriage need to be arguing against. As I wrote yesterday, the main point they are making IS to do with the idea of marriage as being about the production and development of children. It is not, as the accusations were saying, directly put down to hatred of homosexuals, nor as “God says so in the Bible here, so that’s it”. You may still suppose the thinking underneath is that, that’s a matter of judgement. I happen to believe that what they are writing here is an honest account of their beliefs and how they come to them. In response to David writing at 4.36 this morning, it does not predict immediate dire consequences, it is more of a “slow slide” argument, so to say “well, gay marriage has been legal for a few years and all this hasn’t happened” is to miss the point.

    Now, my point is that most of what I can see from the pro-gay marriage side does seem to be abusive comments directed at those critical of the idea, use of the word that starts with “bi” and ends with “got”, suggestions that they are directed by hatred, that they are “dinosaurs” or whatever. I think this is gross intolerance. To me, part of being a liberal is that if one disagrees with people one at least hears them out, understands what their arguments are, that doesn’t stop simply because one disagrees with their arguments and their conclusions. I do very much fear that this intolerant attitude is serving to push dedicated Catholics into the hands of the political right.

  • Alex Matthews 17th Dec '12 - 11:36am

    @Matthew Huntbach, while I am happy to finally see a clearer stance of what you are lobbying for, I think I now see why it is never going to go down that way. In my mind, this is for two reasons:

    1=The left’s intolerance of Catholics=Sorry, but I was raised in a Catholic world, with half my family being Catholics, sent to Catholic school…etc, and trust me, the idea of Catholics now shouting intolerance is laughable to me, as I suspect it is to many others of the left. I have seen first hand their view of life, and unfortunately, despite the smiley face the church as a whole tries to put on it, it is just as intolerant as the ‘Liberal Left’ (as you seem to have named us) believes it to be. This means that the ‘Liberal Left’ simply will not take this argument seriously. Ignoring the fact that the Catholic church has been a force of intolerance for centuries as a moot point, most liberals in response to the argument that we are not respecting RC beliefs simply say, “no, we are, in fact we are almost bending over backwards to allow you to continue to believe whatever it is you believe. We are merely asking that in return you accept that others can and will from now on be allowed to act in a manner which is fundamentally different to those beliefs. We are not even asking you to be complicate in any acts you disagree with, we are are merely asking to you to tolerant their existence. To put it in simple terms, we want you to ‘live and let live.'”

    2=Marriage for children=Well, again, this is such a ridiculous line, again the ‘Liberal Left’ probably sees debating it as laughable. I mean if marriage is about making babies, this means that we have to ban any couples who cannot have children from getting married.

    =Now, you may ask, well if you see these arguments as so funny, why do you not take them straight down, but the truth is, we have, we took these down years ago, and anyone who is going to disagree with them, has already done so. It would seem laughable for us to keep arguing on these lines when they are no longer an issue to anyone but the most hardline of religious activists, who will never agree with us anyway. This means we are now arguing against what we see as the real issue here, the general intolerance of homosexuality in most religions. Take away the straw man argument that has been made of the word ‘marriage’, or the proxy argument that has been made of the ideal that ‘marriage is for the children’, or the erroneous argument that ‘the physical act of homosexuality is a sin’, or the fanciful argument that this ‘oppresses religious’ or the mendacious argument that homosexuality is a ‘choice’ and not ‘natural’. Take these Machiavellian arguments away as they have to a T already been debate, refuted and rejected by society as a whole, and you see the truth of this issue, you see those still pushing them forward for what they really are, they are people trying their hardest to hide what their real issue is because they know it is a non-issue once we get down to it. They know their real problem with homosexuality is none of the the above, their real problem is they simply do not like homosexuality, and that is why you get issues like a speech writer somewhere in government foolishly using the word bigot, and the left no longer taking them seriously. I mean seriously, when an MP representing the ‘no’ campaign is so prejudiced against homosexuality that he compares it to polygamy, there is not much left to be said really, is there? I mean, when the ‘no’ campaign is so erogenous as to say that, then there is simply no debate left to be had.

  • “To say “well, gay marriage has been legal for a few years and all this hasn’t happened” is to miss the point.”

    Er, why is it missing the point? It seems to me to be hitting the point fairly squarely.

  • “The main point I am trying to make is that what appears here is what those who are in favour of gay marriage need to be arguing against.”

    That’s not difficult, considering the core of the argument is “Until now marriage has always included the possibility of children.” Apart from anything else, I think implying that heterosexual couples who can’t have children don’t have a ‘real’ marriage is a pretty heartless thing to do.

    But I think you really should tell us what your own arguments against same-sex marriage are, rather than quoting stuff like this and hastily adding “I am not saying I agree with it.”

  • @Matthew, I read the briefing document on the page you link to. The basis is that marriage is about bringing up ones biological children, therefore gay marriage is illegitimate. They don’t in any way address the question of why this is different to heterosexual marriages between people who are unable or unwilling to bear children, when in practice infertility is no barrier to marriage in the Catholic church. As far as I can see there are two possible reasons for that:
    1) They have never heard the argument made, because they have never listened to the other side. or
    2) They have no possible answer to it, but they persist in believing in and arguing for their case because they have an unstated motive for opposing equal civil marriage.

    So sorry, but it seems to me that the b-word we are not allowed to post is a fair description, whether reason 1 or 2 is true.

    Yes, I thought someone of your background and would know how to do HTML, that’s why I didn’t give any description of the actual tags to use. As far as I know it isn’t always possible to write tags direct into forums though without them being corrected to be shown literally or removed as spam – I’m not going to try it but presumably if html is ok then it is possible to “mess up” Lib Dem voice forums by posting tags to make any following comments appear incredibly small or unreadable in white or whatever.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 10:49pm

    David

    “To say “well, gay marriage has been legal for a few years and all this hasn’t happened” is to miss the point.”

    Er, why is it missing the point? It seems to me to be hitting the point fairly squarely.

    As I said, it’s a “steady slope” argument, not a claim of instant effect.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 10:50pm

    Alex Matthews

    @Matthew Huntbach, while I am happy to finally see a clearer stance of what you are lobbying for

    I did not say this was my personal opinion.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 11:14pm

    Alex Matthews

    1=The left’s intolerance of Catholics=Sorry, but I was raised in a Catholic world, with half my family being Catholics, sent to Catholic school…etc, and trust me, the idea of Catholics now shouting intolerance is laughable to me, as I suspect it is to many others of the left. I have seen first hand their view of life, and unfortunately, despite the smiley face the church as a whole tries to put on it, it is just as intolerant as the ‘Liberal Left’ (as you seem to have named us) believes it to be.

    I am a Liberal and a left-winger, in the sense that I believe in freedom of thought and freedom of expression and also that there is a need for a strong state to rebalance wealth differences that otherwise grow and restrict the freedom of those who are poor. So I regard myself as “Liberal left”.

    I am not here arguing about intolerance in particular to Catholics, but rather a tendency amongst many on the left to adopt just the sort of attitude which you quite rightly accuse the Catholic Church of having, or at least of having in the past.

    You disagree with the points made in the documents I referenced, fine, I don’t particularly want to argue in their defence, in part because I find that in this sort of thing its almost impossible to get across the line “I’m putting someone else’s case because I think it deserves to be heard”. However, I do think these points have been made courteously and from my knowledge they are genuinely held by those making them. So I do think it would be best for the liberal left to respond to them likewise – which mostly it hasn’t.

    I’ve argued much the same in Catholic circles – that many of the ways in which many Catholics put their case seem more designed to make them feel good about themselves than to win over the opposition.


    2=Marriage for children=Well, again, this is such a ridiculous line, again the ‘Liberal Left’ probably sees debating it as laughable

    This is an illiberal attitude. Sorry, aren’t you acting just the way that you accuse the Catholics of acting, of dismissing anything they disagree with as so ridiculous it isn’t worth debating? As it happens, I don’t myself find the idea that a prominent feature of marriage is that it is an arrangement oriented towards bringing up children to be particularly ridiculous. On the whole it does seem historically and in most cultures to have been quite a big part of what marriage is taken to be about.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 11:28pm

    Richard S

    They don’t in any way address the question of why this is different to heterosexual marriages between people who are unable or unwilling to bear children, when in practice infertility is no barrier to marriage in the Catholic church.

    On the “unwilling” aspect, actually the Catholic Church DOES regard a marriage as invalid if either side is unwilling to have children. On the “unable” side, the idea that it has never been considered is ludicrous – you could probably find whole tomes by Catholic writers on this issue. However, if I were to go to the bother of trying to search out some sort of line in defence of this position, I would undoubtedly be attacked as if it were my personal line. On your point 2), that there is an unstated motive, from my own knowledge of these people they really are being genuine about this. You may disagree or find it a ludicrous line, but it seems to me a good liberal ought to accept the right of people to hold views with which he himself disagrees or finds ludicrous. The true liberal position must surely be to courteously argue against rather than to dismiss it with “You are only saying this because you have a hidden agenda which involved something else”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 11:36pm

    Richard S

    On the different issues of HTML tags, I have long followed the convention of using HTML italics tags for quotes in this discussion forum. You have confused someone else who was asking ME how to do it with me asking someone else how to do it. Some HTML tags seem to work in this forum, others do not. However, the tags that do not works aren’t printed literally, they just don’t have any effect. The a href tag for making links works, it’s what I used in my message of 9.54am today. I tried using tags to change the colour of the font in an earlier message, but they didn’t work.

    Tabletags
    mightwork

    if the above comes out as a table, they do. I think those tabs that work apply only over a single message so it is not possible to use them to cut out followups in the way you suggest.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Dec '12 - 11:37pm

    OK, looks like table tags don’t work. I seem to recall they used to in LDV.

  • @Matthew

    On HTML tags, – interesting, and yes I mixed you up with someone else.

    On the discussion generally, I can understand that you are making the points partly to air them or stop them being misrepresented. In this respect you are in a similar position to me in the Atlas Wussed thread some time ago.

    On marriage – unable. Well what would happen if you posted in a Catholic forum and said “Listen, a lot of people on another forum are saying that we/you are inconsistent and/or predjudiced because infertile couples can in practice have a full Catholic wedding, but the church says inability to have children is a reason to disallow gay marriage, how can we answer that charge?”

    On marriage – unwilling. In which case the definition of marriage which is generally shared in society has long since departed from the one the Catholic church holds as correct. So that boat has sailed already.

  • “However, if I were to go to the bother of trying to search out some sort of line in defence of this position, I would undoubtedly be attacked as if it were my personal line.”

    I really do find your attitude quite astonishing.

    You have posted information on the Roman Catholic ‘line’ against same-sex marriage, which rests on the assertion that with marriage there is always the possibility of children. That assertion is self-evidently false, because the church is happy to marry heterosexual couples who are incapable of having children. And of course that has been pointed out pretty much whenever the argument has been made. Now it appears that you know of no answer to that criticism, and can’t be bothered to find one out. But you carry straight on accusing people of being ‘illiberal’ for saying that the argument doesn’t make sense.

    Can you not see how unreasonable that is? Do you not think a more appropriate response would be something along the lines of “Yes, I see your point, and to be honest I don’t know what the answer to your objection is”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Dec '12 - 11:23pm

    Chris

    I could work out what the probable answer would be, or do some research to find it. But I think I have made my point, and I don’t want to be pushed into the corner of the fanatical Catholic just for the sake of acknowledging there are other positions and arguments.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Dec '12 - 11:32pm

    To make my point, a real fanatic on the other side might make the argument (and I have heard it put like this) “Gay marriage is such a ridiculous idea, that they cannot seriously be holding it, they are just putting it to push another secret agenda. This is what it is – they want to destroy the idea of marriage and the family, so that children are instead brought up by the state, and this will give socialist politicians more of the power over others that they crave”.

    How does that sound? Does it win you over to their case? I think not. I think if they really wanted to win you over, or at east convince you they were decent people, they would start by acknowledging the same as you, and accepting that so far as can be seen you are putting your line because you genuinely believe it, you genuinely feel gay people will only feel accepted and equal in our society if the relationship between two of them can be called “marriage” and rendered indistinguishable in all ways from heterosexual marriage.

    So, the real point I was making was that to the other side, much of what has been said by those in favour of gay marriage comes out sounding rather like my first paragraph, offensive and illiberal in the way it dismisses your real point by supposing it is just a false front put up to hide another.

  • @Matthew, the difference is that the pro-equal marriage side is not running away from discussion and ignoring arguments made by the other side that can’t be answered.

  • Also as an objectivist I deny, and so should everyone other rational person who doesn’t want to live under medieval-style government, their unstated axiom that reality is socially constructed. In other words I believe that things are what they are; my own marriage (in my case in a registry office to a woman and we were lucky enough to have two kids afterwards), is what it is. Whether someone else thinks its the same as a marriage between two men or not, or in some way lesser than a full Catholic marriage, is only in that persons head, it doesn’t actually affect my relationship (that is not to say they are necessarily right or wrong, just that the actual answer doesn’t depend on their opinion). You might think that the marriage (not in the UK) of a person I know, conducted solely in order to get a visa, is not equivalent to my or your marriage. Well firstly, if you think that, then you are admitting that views of marriage don’t depend only on the legal position, and secondly you would also be wrong, because the sole reason he wanted a visa was to stay in the (poorer than his) country, and the sole reason he wanted to stay was to be with the woman who he loved who was carrying his baby, even though they wouldn’t have normally had to get married. Note that your opinion on this guy and his marriage has changed over the course of reading the paragraph, because I hid information at the start. The actual nature of this guy’s marriage hasn’t changed while you were reading the paragraph because while reality can be affected by our actions, it is not directly constructed from our perceptions of it – the nature of his marriage doesn’t depend on the contents of your head. Reality is not socially constructed, things are what they are. If I think (or don’t think) there is no difference between your marriage and that of Anna Nicole Smith and her octagenarian billionaire, it has no effect on the actual reality.

    So the Catholic argument (actually, the secular argument, which purely by coincidence is being put by the Catholic church, which believes unrepented gays are going straight to hll, although of course a stopped clock is right twice a day so the argument can be examined on its own merits) goes like this:

    1) Peoples perceptions of marriages rightly depend on the legal position and
    2) The current legal and therefore social position says marriage is about having children and
    3) Reality is socially constructed, therefore
    4) Changes in the legal position will actually affect the nature of our own extant marriages therefore
    5) We are entitled to take steps that will continue the non-recognition of same-sex relationships abroad.

    It forms an interesting collectors ‘ piece in that it is a five-step logical argument in which every single premise is incorrect. Being an objectivist rather than a faith-based reasoner, I am not well placed to judge whether this has happened as an inevitable result of the use of faith-based reasoning, or is created disingenuously as others suggest, but I don’t think it is surprising that they are suspicious, particularly given the Catholic churches views on same-sex relationships are well-known. Looking at the other sides motivations is irrelevant though, either the arguments hold water or they don’t, and again the contents of the other persons head don’t affect whether they do or not, because again reality is objective, not socially constructed.

    By the way, there was one good point in the briefing document. The law doesn’t define how the concept of “consummation” of marriage will be applied between, for example two women, instead leaving it up to future case law. I do tend to think this is a bit weak on the part of the drafters of the bill, although perhaps the whole concept is outdated now anyway.

  • Matthew

    Evidently you’re not willing to discuss the substantive arguments. Simply saying “You’re being illiberal” whenever you see an argument you can’t or won’t answer is a very poor substitute for rational discussion.

    And when people behave like that, it’s not “offensive or illiberal” to suggest that they may be concealing their real reasons for opposition. It’s an entirely reasonable response.

  • The Catholic faith teaches that physical homo-sexuality (sodomy), is a serious sin, the gravity of which is emphasised in the Old Testament as one of a few particularly grave sins crying to heaven for vengeance. This is clearly a major reason for the Catholic Church to oppose same-sex marriage, as well as other well publicised family and societal reasons.

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