Tomorrow the House of Commons will vote on the Bill to allow equal marriage for same-sex couples which Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone did so much to push forward as Equalities Minister.
Two Lib Dem MPs have so far publicly declared their opposition:
“I will vote against the Bill – against Gay Marriage but not necessarily for all the reasons the churches give but because I think there is a good liberal case against the current legislation. … My fundamental objection (see below) against the government’s proposal is that it achieves none of its objectives and weakens the link between marriage and the family. As a result it draws government (the state) into a whole, new series of debatable judgements and rulings on sexual, personal and religious behaviour. Far from being permissive in effect, it could herald the advent of ever more arbitrary prescription as we forget why the state legislates at all in this deeply personal aspect of life.”
John has published a summary of his argument here.
“I will vote against gay marriage. Civil partnerships are fine. Gay marriage is just not on.”
A further nine Lib Dem MPs are listed on the Coalition for Equal Marriage website as having not declared either for or against equal marriage:
Alan Beith - Berwick-upon-Tweed
Annette Brooke - Mid Dorset and North Poole
Duncan Hames - Chippenham
John Hemming - Birmingham, Yardley
Charles Kennedy - Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Greg Mulholland - Leeds North West
Robert Smith - West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
Sarah Teather - Brent Central
John Thurso - Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
In addition, I’ve seen reports on Twitter that party president Tim Farron is ‘still deciding’ how to vote, according to the BBC — though he’s listed in support on the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s website. (UPDATE 5 Feb: Tim Farron has confirmed on Twitter he will be voting for equal marriage.)
Equal marriage didn’t appear in the party’s 2010 manifesto, although Nick Clegg was a public advocate for it then. It is now party policy, approved by Lib Dem conference, though the parliamentary party voted before Christmas not to whip on the issue. Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael defended the decision to make it a free vote on LDV here, saying:
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.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.