Opinion: Does the debate over equal marriage reveal our blind spots?

Let me begin by saying that I enthusiastically support equal marriage. The ability of two people who love each other to marry regardless of their gender is a blessing, Tuesday’s vote was a victory for liberalism, and despite its flaws the Bill is a big step forward to a fairer society. I found the explanations made by those Lib Dem MPs who opposed the bill to be intellectually unconvincing, sometimes evasive, and fundamentally illiberal.

And yet, I was slightly perturbed by the number of people – and a party organisation – discussing whether to refuse to campaign for the ‘rebels’. I have seen deselection mentioned at least twice. I question why this issue – above all of the other difficult votes in this parliament – has earned, uniquely, the scorn and approbation of so many for a small minority within our party.

Is it the fact that this debate, so concerned with questions of equality under the law and non-discrimination, encapsulates the things that make us liberals? The argument has been made that we would never tolerate any MP voting against equal rights for ethnic minorities. Yet, while this is true, there has been near silence within our party (except for some honourable exceptions) about the potential abolition of Equality Impact Assessments. Regardless of the merits of EIAs, they are one of the few proactive tools for ensuring, amongst other things, racial equality. You might at least have expected a serious debate. Similarly, there has been little fuss made about the de-fanging of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. These are also challenges to equality, and to freedom. To quote Lyndon Johnson;

We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.

Is it the fact that this issue is so profoundly emotional, dealing with the profoundly personal questions of sexuality and love? Undoubtedly. But at the same time, many of the things that we chose to do in government affect others profoundly – to give an example, seemingly minor changes to the Employment and Support Allowance. To a disabled man or woman, ‘welfare reform’ is an acutely personal issue as well. Our government and our MPs are, with a few exceptions, supporting these changes. Should we promise not to support those who vote for measures, such as cutting disability benefits for the most vulnerable in our society, which are, to my mind, illiberal? Is voting against equal marriage alone a boycottable offence?

I am not trying to say that these issues are ‘more important’ than same-sex marriage, or that you can’t care about more than one thing at once. Quite the opposite. David Laws, in his somewhat controversial introduction to the Orange Book, invoked the idea of a ‘four cornered’ liberalism, which balances and incorporates political, personal, social and economic liberalism. As a result of the ideological divisions which that volume exposed and precipitated, we have tended in internal party discourse to stress personal and political liberalism above the other forms because of the shared consensus the party holds around them. I worry that, because of this, there is an unhealthy trend to emphasise some aspects of legal equality or due process as the main focus of liberalism, and to ignore the question of substantive freedom outside the narrow framework of the law. LGBT rights and civil liberties are so very, very important. And so are women’s rights and the rights of the disabled and the poor and the vulnerable. So is the ability of a child to fulfil her talents, to grow up and flourish as a human being whoever his parents might be. And so is the future of our public services.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your conscience whether you refuse to campaign for any of our parliamentarians who vote against equal marriage. What I hope is that everyone will judge them not on one division, but on all the divisions they make in this parliament. Liberalism is too precious and too complex to be judged by a single vote.

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58 Comments

  • Richard Wingfield 8th Feb '13 - 10:43am

    I disagree entirely with this opinion piece. The comparison of the vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with other votes this Parliament is not a fair one at all for three reasons:

    1. The vote on Equal Marriage was an entirely free vote and not whipped. The other votes you have referred to were not free votes but whipped by the leadership. The decision on how to vote was thus entirely that of the individual MP;
    2. Equal Marriage is party officially and was supported overwhelmingly at the 2010 Autumn Conference by the party. A vote against was therefore directly contrary to our party’s clear policy whereas the other votes you have referred to were not directly contrary to party policy; and
    3. The vote was a straightforward one between liberalism (the freedom to marry a person) and illiberalism (the State preventing you from marrying a person because of your gender / sexual orientation). The other votes you have referred to are more complex and not easily divided into a liberal / illiberal dichotomy.

    You state you worry that “there is an unhealthy trend to emphasise some aspects of legal equality or due process as the main focus of liberalism, and to ignore the question of substantive freedom outside the narrow framework of the law” but the only votes our MPs ever take are on the law i.e. on Bills. Only very occasionally is there a vote on something other than legislation such as a backbench motion. As a result, our MPs are very limited in what they can affect by voting and, ultimately, they can really only vote on what the law should be. They are not able to vote on issues of freedom which fall outside of the “narrow framework of the law” and you are therefore asking us to judge MPs on things they are unable to do.

    I think that due to the three reasons I’ve outlined above, this vote was a unique one in this Parliament in that (1) it was entirely free and unwhipped, (2) on an issue on which there is clear and explicit party policy; and (3) was a clear vote between liberalism and illiberalism. As far as I can recall, no other vote this Parliament can be said to tick those three boxes. It was therefore hugely important and we should judge our MPs more on this vote than others.

    While I would not support deselection for any of the MPs who either voted against or who abstained for no good reason, I will not campaign for them either. I cannot in good conscience support a candidate who, when it came to a free vote, made the decision to vote against our party’s clear policy and in favour of the state preventing people from living their lives freely when no harm whatsoever is caused to other people, to take Mill’s definition of liberty. I am also hesitant to campaign for those MPs whose support was either half-hearted or with strings attached such as Tim Farron or Simon Hughes. All of our MPs should have been 100% behind the principle of this Bill – even if they had concerns over some of the details – and voted for this Bill at Second Reading. That a greater proportion of Labour MPs voted in favour (85%) than Lib Dem MPs (80%) was a real shame, tempered only by the consolation that it was Liberal Democrats who pushed for this in government and who were the real proponents of the Bill.

  • liberalism is a philosophy, rather than a clutch of policies , and so every question need be taken back to the roots of liberal thinking. Every party member has the preamble to the constitution printed on their membership cards – and every member has a right to expect that the party’s -few- elected members will act always to work to the philosphy encapsulated in the preamble, surely? It follows that elected representatives who support conformity, try to reinforce privilige/tradition, or seek to ‘enslave’ others through ignorance are not liberals, and we might as well not support them.

    really, the LD parliamentary party has not shone – other posters have pointed out the controversies surrounding so many of those who got to cabinet, we lost an MP this week, and another has been summoned to the whips office for the second time for alleged remarks, That’s before we add expenses stories to the list, or LDs in the Lords who won’t support Lords reform! The MPs who voted against equal marriage have been let off lightly if all that happens is that what’s left of the membership/supporters won’t help their re-election attempts – and why would they?

    so, it really is time to start again, and i suggest we make sure that we go back to Liberal basics in doing so.

  • Liberal Neil 8th Feb '13 - 11:29am

    We all have a limited amount of time we can commit to campaigning. If a particular issue is a touchstone one for you, you are clearly going to take their view on it into account when choosing who to spend that limited time campaigning for.

  • I am sorry that those of us who cannot support same-sex marriage are branded as illiberal. It is not a liberal thing to do to call people with other views names . Freedom of conscience is a fundamental liberal principle, recognised in the fact that this was a free vote indeed, and I can quite understand where Sarah Teather and Alan Beith are coming from (staunch Liberals both). Now I really do begin to wonder about the LibDems being taken over by an intolerant Thought Police Force. A little more charity to colleagues who beg to differ would be in order, methinks. This issue is not the be all and end all for the LibDems, is it? If it is, I may well become disenfranchised!

  • I think the photo here might be the wrong James King…

  • Given that a great many Catholics ignore much of their Churches social conservatism (e.g. majority of Catholics voting for pro SSM/abortion Obama rather than anti candidate Romney). I find it deeply depressing that the main opposition to SSM on Tuesday in both the Lib Dem & Labour camps seems to have come from Catholic MPs who still put loyalty to the Vatican line above everything else. When so many Catholics ignore the Pope’s strictures on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, divorce and so on I really wonder why people who still adhere so strongly to the “Vatican line” belong to socially liberal parties.

  • “I am sorry that those of us who cannot support same-sex marriage are branded as illiberal. It is not a liberal thing to do to call people with other views names.”

    If you’ve read the discussions elsewhere, you must know that that’s not the basis of the criticism.

    The basis of the criticism is that those who oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons are trying to impose their own religious views on people who do not share them. In describing it as a issue of “conscience”, you do seem to acknowledge implicitly that that’s what is happening.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Feb '13 - 11:51am

    I agree with Don Manley. Liberalism puts great emphasis on the individual conscience. The fact that there are people in the Party whose Liberalism is formed from their religious beliefs ( those who know liberal history understand this) is incomprehensible to some and that does a great disservice to a great Party.

    I admire the MPs who examined their conscience and voted according to it , even if it meant that they were in a minority. Minorities are cherished by Liberals, apparently.

  • To give an example, suppose a Jewish or Muslim MP voted in favour of banning the sale of pork.

    That might be an issue of conscience, but it would also be profoundly illiberal.

  • Richard Wingfield 8th Feb '13 - 12:04pm

    Don, calling a policy “illiberal” or those that support it is not “name calling”. Just as prohibiting mixed-race marriage would be illiberal, or prohibiting marriages between persons of different faiths is illiberal, so is a prohibition of same-sex marriage illiberal. Are you really suggesting that liberals cannot call proposals illiberal?

    Freedom of conscience is, of course, a liberal principle and I would defend it absolutely. If any Bill was put forward which prohibited people from having a belief and expressing that belief, I would not support it. But this Bill is not about conscience as it in no way impacts upon the beliefs of a person may have or express. If a person is entitled to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, they will still be able to.

    However, real liberals do not believe that a person’s beliefs – whether based on faith or not – justify prohibiting other people from doing things which cause no harm. It is fundamentally illiberal for a person to say “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and therefore I will prohibit marriages between two men or two women even where (a) those two people wish to marry, (b) there are religions which wish to carry out such marriages and (c) no harm will be caused to anyone as a result of those two people marrying”. You are, in fact, limiting other people’s freedom of conscience by not allowing religions to carry out services they wish to carry out i.e. same-sex marriages. How on earth can you say that such a position is consistent with liberalism?

  • @Duncan,

    Yes, due to a serious of comical misunderstandings I have ended up as a slightly different persona… this is being fixed, I am told.

    @Richard Wingfield,

    Thank you for replying at length. You make some fair points, although I don’t understand the logic of your first argument; surely because this vote was whipped, we should be less expectant of our MPs to vote according to party lines, which negates point (b)? Also, as to point (b), we obviously have plenty of party policy even more recent which has been ignored – see, for example, the motion on Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments at Autumn Conference 2011.

    Point (c) is more complex, and I suppose it goes to the heart of my argument. You might argue that some issues are more important than others for us because they fall inside some kind of liberal/illiberal dichotomy. While that’s true up to a point (I would find it hard to describe the government’s economic policy as illiberal for the most part, even if it’s wrong), I think that it’s this kind of attitude that glosses over the importance of issues of economics and (to use a hackneyed old term) ‘positive liberty’. To give a completely exaggerated example, if the government decided tomorrow to abolish free secondary education this would be far, far more damaging to freedom in this country than not passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. As you might have gathered, I believe that the Coalition’s changes to welfare – and particularly its treatment of the disabled – is a complete shame. When you have people unable to fulfill their full potential, and sometimes even to remain physically mobile, I think that is at least on a par with keeping our grossly unfair system of civil marriage.

    @Neil – absolutely. I don’t reproach anybody for campaigning or not campaigning for any elected member as they see fit according to their preferences/consciences. The same, of course, applies for anybody in the party who disagrees with their representatives on any issue they think is important to them, be it tuition fees or parking permits.

    @Don Manley @Helen Tadcastle,

    If an issue like this is one of individual conscience, well, why not (say) tax, or criminal justice, or education? To me, this is the same problem of building up artificial distinctions, but this time between ‘conscience’ issues and ‘the rest’. And the idea that legitimate criticism, especially since it has been generally polite if sharp, is somehow ‘illiberal’ is just silly. Liberalism relies on strong, sometimes even disturbing and upsetting debate between different people as much as tolerance.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Feb '13 - 12:43pm

    @ Dave Page: ” Helen, I don’t think that all minorities are, or should be, cherished by liberalism. The BNP are a minority and I don’t think many liberals cherish them…”

    Their right to exist, organise and hold and express their beliefs is accepted in Liberalism – even if we dislike intensely their views.

    “There are also many liberals including several of our MPs whose liberalism, informed by their religion, causes them to vote against imposing their religious beliefs on others.”

    Firstly, these MPs are not imposing their religious beliefs on others – they are defending the current law – there’s a difference. Furthermore, I think that defending a person’s right to exercise their conscience is a fundamental principle of Liberalism and it transcends votes at conference and the context of the social zeitgeist we are living through.

  • David Allen 8th Feb '13 - 1:03pm

    Giving MPs a free vote on an issue of conscience, and then threatening to deselect or sanction them if they use that free vote the wrong way, is just bonkers.

    I support gay marriage, but I don’t support the Liberal Thought Police.

  • Richard Dean 8th Feb '13 - 1:36pm

    Yes, it reveals that we sometimes forget the Dem in LibDem.

    Dem is short for Them. Those who have different views. Even though we may dislike their views, Dem means that we value their expression, and we enshrine this in part through our belief in the principles of equality and freedom of expression. Dem means that we do not condemn others for different views, or seek to change them by force or gang pressure, but seek instead to persuade by rational argument. Dem means democratic, and that we believe that a vote for something we believe is wrong is still a valid vote, no matter how wrong we believe it to be.

  • “Firstly, these MPs are not imposing their religious beliefs on others – they are defending the current law – there’s a difference. Furthermore, I think that defending a person’s right to exercise their conscience is a fundamental principle of Liberalism and it transcends votes at conference and the context of the social zeitgeist we are living through.”

    I thought the line from the MPs (and usually from opponents of same-sex marriage here) was that it was all based on general considerations about what would be best for society, and not directly on their religious beliefs at all. Apparently the mask keeps slipping, though.

  • It seems to me that we have got as far as we are going to get on this one. There is a minority in the party, close to 20%, who have at least concerns about gay marriage. There is another minority (no evidence I can see for the number) who feel this is something so fundamental to liberal identity that anyone who does not agree is not a true liberal, and would withhold support/activism for individual MPs who didn’t vote for, or even to suggest that the 20% are not welcome in the party. And a large group in the middle who support the principle but wouldn’t withhold support over this issue (presumably either respecting the free vote on conscience, respecting minority views, or not feeling strongly about the issue.)

    Perhaps we are best leaving it there and focussing on winning in Eastleigh and around the country in May?

  • David Evans 8th Feb '13 - 3:46pm

    @Chris
    “I thought the line from the MPs (and usually from opponents of same-sex marriage here) was that it was all based on general considerations about what would be best for society, and not directly on their religious beliefs at all. Apparently the mask keeps slipping, though.”

    It is curious how you made this comment in reply to a post that denied that it was anything to do with religious belief. It said “Firstly, these MPs are not imposing their religious beliefs on others – they are defending the current law – there’s a difference.”

    You seem to have a need to build up conclusions not based on what people are saying, but on what you want to portray them as saying. You then you seem to try to imply they are hiding behind a mask. To me that is profoundly illiberal. I fear it may be someone else’s mask that is slipping.

  • I think Dave Page put his finger on it in his comment – there is a difference between issues of principle and issues of practice.

    Things like Equality Impact Assessments are issues of practice, where in principle everyone agrees with the aim of achieving equal treatment of all people regardless of ethnicity, but there are disagreements on a) how best to achieve it and b) how much it is fair to spend given that all money spent on item 1 is by definition money not spent on items 2, 3, 4, 5, up to infinity.

    But if there remained issues of principle in which people from ethnic minorities were treated differently under the law, e.g. if mixed race couples were not allowed to marry but only become civil partners, then I would consider that a “red line” issue. And if any of our MPs voted against equalising the situation, then I would need a very, VERY good explanation why if I were ever to consider supporting them again.

    Which brings my to my other point – I think the reason for the disappointment and anger about the decisions of the 4 MPs who voted against the SSM bill has quite a bit to do with not just their votes but the explanations they gave. If they were concerned that the bill didn’t do enough to protect religious freedoms alongside equalisation of marriage then fair enough. I would still disagree, but at least that sort of reasoning would imply that they do consider gay relationships as equal to straight ones but are worried about trampling on other people’s freedom of conscience.

    But while some of them mentioned this, none of them gave that as the main reason for their vote. All of them gave what amounted to a mealy-mouthed explanation of why they don’t really believe that gay relationships are equal to straight ones. And yes, that crosses a big fat liberal red line for me. It’s by no means my only liberal red line, but it’s certainly one of them.

    I would say others are: equality between different genders (and those who wish to change genders), equality between different ethnicities, equal treatment of people with disabilities, provision of free education and healthcare, opposition to the death penalty, and a reasonable safety net for those who can’t support themselves. There are probably others that I can’t bring to mind right now. The only difference with same-sex marriage is that there was a recent vote on the principle, rather than the practice. If there was a vote on the death penalty and any of our MPs vote in favour of it, I imagine you’d see 100 times more fury amongst the majority of members and supporters.

  • David Evans

    It is curious how you made this comment in reply to a post that denied that it was anything to do with religious belief. It said “Firstly, these MPs are not imposing their religious beliefs on others – they are defending the current law – there’s a difference.”

    You’ve removed about half of what I was replying to, and half of what I quoted.

    Even the first half did not “deny that it was anything to do with religious belief”, as you claim. It denied that it was an imposition of religious beliefs because the MPs were only supporting the status quo rather than voting for a change. I don’t accept that distinction at all, but in any case the second half – the part you removed – explicitly defended “a person’s right to exercise their conscience”. Clearly in this context that referred to religious beliefs.

    If you have occasion to quote my comments in future, please do not edit them in such a grossly misleading way.

  • There is no excuse for the fact that as a percentage, the most illiberal party in British politics (Labour) out voted us on a fundamentally liberal issue! #shame

  • David Evans 8th Feb '13 - 5:07pm

    @ Catherine

    “Which brings my to my other point – I think the reason for the disappointment and anger about the decisions of the 4 MPs who voted against the SSM bill has quite a bit to do with not just their votes but the explanations they gave. If they were concerned that the bill didn’t do enough to protect religious freedoms alongside equalisation of marriage then fair enough. I would still disagree, but at least that sort of reasoning would imply that they do consider gay relationships as equal to straight ones but are worried about trampling on other people’s freedom of conscience.
    But while some of them mentioned this, none of them gave that as the main reason for their vote. All of them gave what amounted to a mealy-mouthed explanation of why they don’t really believe that gay relationships are equal to straight ones. And yes, that crosses a big fat liberal red line for me. It’s by no means my only liberal red line, but it’s certainly one of them. ”

    I think this is the post which fills me as a lifelong liberal with the most sadness. I have read John Pugh’s Summary of his arguments and I just cannot see any justification for your comment “All of them gave what amounted to a mealy-mouthed explanation of why they don’t really believe that gay relationships are equal to straight ones.” It may be your belief that this bill will make things equal, but John expresses concerns that point out the severe problems and risks in the proposal you support. You just seem to want to believe that the 4 MPs don’t believe gay relationships are equal. I think he has made a case that when it comes to the commonly accepted use of the word marriage, they are not identical, and there are great dangers in passing a law to pretend that they are. I fear you are in danger of ascribing false views to honest, straight talking liberals.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Feb '13 - 5:37pm

    @ Chris ” Apparently the mask keeps slipping, though.”
    Where’s the mask? If you read the original comment to which my post was as response, you would see the context.
    @ Richard Dean: agree with your comment ,

    @ David Evans: “You just seem to want to believe that the 4 MPs don’t believe gay relationships are equal. I think he has made a case that when it comes to the commonly accepted use of the word marriage, they are not identical, and there are great dangers in passing a law to pretend that they are. I fear you are in danger of ascribing false views to honest, straight talking liberals.”

    Exactly! The 2 MPs plus others who are Lib Dems and opposed to the Bill do not see this matter as an equality issue but argument about a word with a particular cultural, social, historical and yes, religious meaning,

  • “You just seem to want to believe that the 4 MPs don’t believe gay relationships are equal.”

    You can try to dress it up in all sorts of ways but that _is_ how they voted. “Separate and nearly equal but with a special ‘mark this lot as different to reassure queerbashers that it’s still ok to hate’ label …. and inferior, not equal, rights … and a side order of a whole tranche of ways to kick trans and nonbinary people for being different, along with marking out their families and partners to be treated as lesser citizens too”… is not equal.

    Wasn’t Pugh one of the MPs who voted for homosexuality to be a thought crime?

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Feb '13 - 5:48pm

    “The 2 MPs” Apologies that should read, ” 4 MPs”

  • “The 2 MPs plus others who are Lib Dems and opposed to the Bill do not see this matter as an equality issue but argument about a word with a particular cultural, social, historical and yes, religious meaning,”

    Then you do agree that it is – at least in part – an attempt to impose their own religious understanding of marriage on society as a whole (or, if you insist, to ensure that that understanding continues to be imposed).

    What I mean by the mask slipping is that – as far as I’ve seen – the Lib Dem MPs who voted against the Bill have attempted to justify their action in terms of general utilitarian arguments about the benefit of a particular form of marriage to society rather than by appealing to their religious beliefs. And then people like you come along and say it’s an issue of conscience and, yes, religion.

  • Richard Dean 8th Feb '13 - 5:52pm

    If you want to fight against discrimination that is done on grounds of difference, it’s no good doing it by pretending that a real difference that exists doesn’t exist, even if it is an irrelevant one, or by forcing others to agree that they are not different. That just gives the impressions of dishonesty and selfishness, and is counter-productive because those impressions can feed the motives that drive the discrimination.

    It’s the discrimination that needs to be fought, not the difference! The gay marriage proposals appear to fail to do that.

  • James Sandbach 8th Feb '13 - 5:58pm

    I could perhaps understand the ranquor being dished out to the dissenting MPs if the vote on the SSM Bill was lost on account of it – but no, it won (wonderfully!) by a huge margin/majority – over two thirds of MPs (there’s scarcely ever been a parliamentary majority that big for anything!); so let them dissent, as their actions have caused no harm.. James K – glad you agree with me on welfare reform (and there more than this to dissent on)!

  • David Allen 8th Feb '13 - 6:31pm

    I support gay marriage. But – We should recognise that this Bill has been unusually rushed. Public opinion has shifted very rapidly. Only 7 years ago in 2005 there was a widespread consensus that civil partnership was the answer.

    It was right to make the commitment that this change will happen. But, rather than start a war with those who are still unhappy about it, would it not be better to slow down a bit, and debate carefully all the various concerns being raised? Yes, many of them are obstacles being thrown onto the track in the hopes of derailing the train, but, that doesn’t mean that the best approach is to pretend they are just not there.

    We don’t want this to end up like the law on hunting – an empty victory, a law that is passed but which doesn’t stop the argument.

  • @ David Evans

    You just seem to want to believe that the 4 MPs don’t believe gay relationships are equal.

    That’s a fair point actually, because I have chosen to believe that is fundamentally what underlies their opposition. However, the reason for my choice is that if I took their words at face value then I would have to accept that they believe something which, to me, is even more disturbing. (I should add that this doesn’t apply to Alan Beith who AFAIK hasn’t released a reasoning for his vote – but please someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

    You mentioned John Pugh, so let’s take his reasoning as an example. In his letter to constituents he says his main objection is that gay marriage “weakens the link between marriage and the family”. In his longer summary document he goes into more detail on this point, explicitly citing the purpose of marriage as being to provide a legal and financial framework for bringing up children. And he objects to this word being applied to gay couples because their relationships are “in principle non-procreative”.

    So, taking his words at fact value, John Pugh doesn’t believe the word “marriage” should apply to infertile couples, couples who choose not to procreate, or couples who marry in old age. Not only that, but by placing biological procreation at the heart of his definition of “marriage” and “family”, he clearly feels that couples who adopt children are not eligible to “marry”, and therefore children brought up by non-biological parents have missed out on being part of their “real family”. For all his faults, I had great respect for Michael Gove when he said he had chosen not to meet his biological mother out of respect for his real one. It sounds like John Pugh would say his “real” mother was the one he never met not the one who brought him up.

    I would have a higher opinion of someone who was simply uncomfortable with gay relationships compared to someone who thinks a couple are only properly “married” if they produce biological offspring. How foolish of all those couples who thought they were getting married in order to make a public declaration of their mutual love and committment.

  • I really hope this is the last post on same-sex marriage. I disagree with my fellow LD members who are anti. I’ve heard nothing to suggest they have a meaningful challenge to what I believe. And I am sure the same is true on their part. So perhaps we should just leave it there?

  • Stuart Mitchell 8th Feb '13 - 7:29pm

    Lots of talk of “equality”, yet the Bill itself explicitly reinforces inequality on many levels.

    I agree with James King. I support equal marriage but I don’t like the way dissenters are being put upon. It is clearly possible to be opposed to this Bill without being homophobic. This must be true because there are plenty of prominent gay people who have spoken out against it. Some examples are quoted here :-

    http://takimag.com/article/gays_against_gay_marriage_bp_terpstra/print#axzz2KKxNkr46

    Since there are plenty of people here who are happy to ascribe motives to those who oppose gay marriage, perhaps someone might like to speculate on why (say) Christopher Biggins is opposed to it? Or is such speculation strictly for straight Christians?

  • How anyone can think heterosexual marriage is so perfect that SSM would weaken tradional marriage and the family after revelations about the former Member for Eastleigh ‘s family life is beyond me.

  • Richard Dean 8th Feb '13 - 11:51pm

    One pair’s failure does not mean every pair is wrong

  • At the end of the day you want to select a person who is going to win the seat.

    Gay marriage was a highly publicised issue. How you voted on such a high profile issue matters a lot . A LibDem who voted against this (as opposed to a LibDem who abstained or didn’t turn up) will be punished by the public at voting time. At the last election the Libdems won hand down with the “gay” vote and equality and LGBT rights is a big indicator of fairness in a party.

    The reasons put forward by John Pugh and Sarah Teather (both Catholic) have echoed the Catholic church’s view on homosexuals and unfortuntely for them and the party their comments have been highly offensive. The party would be mad to re-select either of these MPs especially since they are going to have an uphill struggle to retain their candidates anyway even without the controversary attached to such Liddem MPs.

  • I will not be campaigning for the 4 MPs that voted against the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill. I can’t see any reason on earth that I should campaign or support any MP that has voted to continue to allow me to be discriminated against – why would I?
    However it is not the only issue that will decide who I campaign for in 2015 – I will also not campaign for any MP that broke the NUS Fees pledge – I am sure there will be other issues that help decide who I campaign for throughout the rest of this Parliament.

  • Richard Dean 8th Feb ’13 – 11:51pm
    One pair’s failure does not mean every pair is wrong

    No, but the decline in marriage statistics and rise in divorce means something, as do the statistics on domestic violence and other insidious acts which ave arisen as a result of marriage.

    @Andy, I want to give Sarah the benefit of the doubt and hope she was acting in the way her constituents wanted, but I really think this has undermined some of her fantastic past work. I have little to no interest in Pugh, but Sarah was an MP I really respected for her amazing work on issues like child imprisonment and everyones’ most hated American prison. I still think she is a great MP,

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 10:05am

    @Liberal Al
    Those kinds of statistics makes you wonder why same-sex couples want to get married at all! :-)

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Feb '13 - 10:12am

    John: “A LibDem who voted against this (as opposed to a LibDem who abstained or didn’t turn up) will be punished by the public at voting time.”

    One of the MPs in question represents a highly marginal constituency with a large Muslim community. His actions have probably increased hs chances of getting reelected.

    Liberal Al: “domestic violence and other insidious acts which ave arisen as a result of marriage.”

    What evidence do you have that domestic violence is “a result of marriage”?

    In this and other posts you insult the institution of marriage while at the same time railing against those who see one form of relationship as being inferior to another. There are good and bad examples of all types of relationship.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 10:55am

    @ John: “A LibDem who voted against this (as opposed to a LibDem who abstained or didn’t turn up) will be punished by the public at voting time. ”

    I very much doubt it. Gay Marriage is a very low priority for most people (except around 7% according to You Gov poll of last week), in influencing their voting intentions, The economy, health, welfare etc… are far greater priorities.

    After all, there is no mandate for this change in the law. If the issue if gay marriage was so important, with such moral and social urgency, why didn’t the parties put in their manifestos in 2010?

    ” The reasons put forward by John Pugh and Sarah Teather (both Catholic) have echoed the Catholic church’s view on homosexuals and unfortunately for them and the party their comments have been highly offensive. ”

    By this statement, I’m wondering whether you actually know and understand the RC Church’s actual teaching on homosexuality, marriage and sexual relationships? I’m guessing not.

    Incidentally, both John Pugh and Sarah Teather are highly intelligent and thoughtful MPs – they think for themselves but they do have consciences and principles, which they follow – just like you, presumably.

  • Mark Inskip 9th Feb '13 - 12:42pm

    @Helen Tedcastle
    “After all, there is no mandate for this change in the law. If the issue if gay marriage was so important, with such moral and social urgency, why didn’t the parties put in their manifestos in 2010?”

    Nick Clegg stated his support numerous times before the General Election including Pink News on 1 7th February 2010: ‘I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another’.

    The Tories launched an “Equality Manifesto” prior to the General Election which stated that they “will also consider the case for for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

    It should therefore have been no surprise when Liberal Democrat equalities minister Lynne Featherstone announced a Government consultation into equal marriage and civil partnership in February 2011.

    There wasn’t a manifesto commitment to decriminalisation homosexuality in Labour’s 1966 Manifesto. Was Roy Jenkins therefore wrong to so when he introduced the Sexual Offences Bill in 1967?

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 1:57pm

    @ Mark Inskip: For Nick Clegg, the law must be changed in order for the law to define love, commitment and personal relationships. I don’t think the law should get involved in love and relationships as such. The law on marriage concerns property and the protection of children in the union resulting from a marriage – marriage is not in my opinion, just about the personal love between two people and I’m uncomfortable with the law intruding into this area. Civil partnerships deal with the civil rights of gay couples already.

    On the last point – Gay people had no security in the law in the 1960s, so I would have favoured and campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. However, Lynne Feathers tone’s bill is nothing to do with rights, although I can see, sadly, that it suits others to characterise the opposition as anti-equality and anti-gay rights.

  • “On the last point – Gay people had no security in the law in the 1960s, so I would have favoured and campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”

    I guess you have your answer, Mark.

    Helen objects to measures being implemented without a manifesto commitment only when they are measures that she doesn’t agree with.

  • Mark Inskip 9th Feb '13 - 3:53pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle ” However, Lynne Feathers tone’s bill is nothing to do with rights…”
    Other that the rights of same sex couples to get married…

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 4:25pm

    The actual bill states that marriage of same-sex couples is to be considered lawful, but mentions the word “right” only a few times, and in every instance it is to explain that rights are not being conferred. A searchable copy of the bill may be found here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0126/2013126.pdf

  • Mark Inskip 9th Feb '13 - 4:37pm

    @Richard Dean
    “The actual bill states that marriage of same-sex couples is to be considered lawful, but mentions the word “right” only a few times, and in every instance it is to explain that rights are not being conferred. ”

    That’s how parliamentary bills are written. Take a look at the 1949 Marriage Act, its not different.

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 4:56pm

    Quite right Mark. Bills rarely confer rights, and this one is no exception.

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb ’13 – 10:05am
    @Liberal Al
    Those kinds of statistics makes you wonder why same-sex couples want to get married at all!

    True, but who are we to tell them not to?

    @Stewart, I shell accept that saying marriage is a sole cause is erroneous, but it has certainly been an intuition which has helped worsen the problem. The fact is this, we had to wait until 1991 before the courts of this land decided that a man forcing sex upon his wife should be considered rape. We also had to wait until 2003 before spousal abuse became a criminal act and not merely a civil issue.

    Furthermore, in many countries, even today, there are still hosts of laws about the control that ‘men’ have over their wives. It is not good reading. One study by the American department of Justice has found that women who are married are far less likely to leave their abusive partners than (shock) divorced women or unmarried women. It also found that women who are not married or who had previously divorced a partner are much more likely to report abuse.

    Moreover, according to a UNICEF survey, the percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is: 90% in Jordan, 85.6% in Guinea, 85.4% in Zambia, 85% in Sierra Leone, 81.2% in Laos, 81% in Ethiopia.

    Yes, I know many people believe marriage is a good thing, but let us not sugar coat it. There are many statistics, even now, which do not make good reading for marriage.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 2:18pm

    I suggest that marriage is not the cause of those problems, and that re-defining marriage in the way proposed is unlikely to solve those problems.

  • “In this and other posts you insult the institution of marriage while at the same time railing against those who see one form of relationship as being inferior to another. There are good and bad examples of all types of relationship.”

    In relation to this; how can I insult marriage? It is a concept, it does not feel and cannot be insulted. I can insult married people, but I cannot insult marriage itself. I bring this up because it shows nicely that it is the people within an in institution, not the institution itself, you are dealing with. IE In this case, it is not marriage or even married people as a group that I have insulted. It is you, as an individual (and I suspect probably others) who have been affronted by my opinions that marriage has problems which make me personally not wish to engage with it at this time.

    Next, I am not campaigning for marriage to be illegal or campaigning to have the institution of marriage restricted in someway, in fact, I am a massive supporter of the freedom to get married, regardless of how one personally defines marriage. Why? Well, because I realise my personal feelings about marriage as a concept are just that, my personal feelings and opinions, not something I should be forcing on others. Furthermore, I realise that while marriage is not what I consider the best option for me, I know there are many people out there that do believe it is right for them and I respect that.

    If someone wishes to get married, far from me feelings that I have the right to stop that, I wish to be as accommodating politically in supporting that choice as I can. As I said, this is because: my decisions should not be forced upon others; what is right for me, may not be right for others; and finally, I personally believe that rather than restricting an institution I do not associate with, I should try to spend my time helping to improve it in whatever small way I can. Thus my supporter for Equal Marriage. (Though, I realise the contention of that issue.)

    Furthermore, I do not see married ‘couples’ as inferior and I kindly request that you find any comment where I have ever said that married couples are inferior to anything or anyone. (However, I have been told by users on this site that my decision not to marry is ‘undesirable’, which to my mind is an open and outright insult against myself and others who have chosen not to get married.)

    From my recollection, all I have said is that the institution of marriage is not for me , I think their are problems with marriage and I believe all kinds of relationships between two people to be treated equally (note, equal, does not mean the same). You may disagree with my beliefs on how to achieve that, which is fair enough.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Feb '13 - 3:02pm

    Liberal Al:

    Studies from the American Department of Justice have also found that married couples have lower rates of domestic violence than unmarried cohabiting couples.

    Regarding the UNICEF survey you refer to, all the countries you refer to are ultra-patriarchal societies. Polygamy is still legal in half of them and exists unofficially in the others. Forced marriage is an issue in some of them too. Marriage in these countries is not, I would suggest, much like marriage as we know it here.

  • “Studies from the American Department of Justice have also found that married couples have lower REPORTED rates of domestic violence than unmarried cohabiting couples.”

    Fixed.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Feb '13 - 7:29pm

    Liberal Al: No, you are inserting words that are not there in the DoJ’s original :-

    “Numerous studies have examined risk factors associated with intimate partner violence. Results from these studies show that unmarried, cohabiting couples have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do married couples.”

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Feb '13 - 7:51pm

    Liberal Al: “In relation to this; how can I insult marriage? It is a concept, it does not feel and cannot be insulted.”

    Of course it’s possible to insult an institution. See the Oxford Dictionary website for a pertinent example :-

    http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/insult

    “Furthermore, I do not see married ‘couples’ as inferior and I kindly request that you find any comment where I have ever said that married couples are inferior to anything or anyone.”

    I never said anything about you finding “couples” inferior. I was referring to your comment on another thread that you have a “strong distaste for marriage”. I took this to mean that you consider marriage to be inferior to some other forms of initmate personal relationship. Granted, it could be that you have a “strong distaste” for ALL forms of intimate relationships, so you don’t view marriage as inferior at all, in which case fair enough!

  • David Evans 11th Feb '13 - 6:50pm

    @ Chris
    “You’ve removed about half of what I was replying to, and half of what I quoted.
    Even the first half did not “deny that it was anything to do with religious belief”, as you claim. It denied that it was an imposition of religious beliefs because the MPs were only supporting the status quo rather than voting for a change. I don’t accept that distinction at all, but in any case the second half – the part you removed – explicitly defended “a person’s right to exercise their conscience”. Clearly in this context that referred to religious beliefs.
    If you have occasion to quote my comments in future, please do not edit them in such a grossly misleading way.”

    Again your response is very curious, because the second half of the post you were replying to didn’t mention religion at all, you may wish to make that connection, but it isn’t there, you just seem to want to imply it was. Conscience is wider than religion as we all know.
    If I comment on where I see the flaws and sometimes downright misleading points in your arguments, I will continue to point them out in as succinct and to the point way as I can: not pad them out and turn them into an exercise in verbosity. You may not like it, but as I said, there seems to be a different mask slipping and in this case, it doesn’t look like the mask of those with religion, but it does look a bit like Hancock to me.

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