If there’s one thing that really irks me about the Tory leadership’s rightful defence of equal marriage, it is this constant, almost apologetic necessity to seek to justify the position by reminding everyone that ‘religious freedoms’ will in no way be encroached upon by this piece of legislation. In his albeit heartfelt endorsement of allowing gay people to enter into “a great institution”, David Cameron was at pains to remind us that any religious groups who oppose the reform will not be forced to hold same-sex marriages.
In a country where the church-going population barely exceeds 10%, it is a strange insistence to be making repeatedly. It seems almost as if the government has been deceived by the vocalness of the bigots, so much so that it is convinced of the need to appease these antiquated institutions and their outdated views.
Part of the issue, no doubt, is that Tory MPs have been allowed to hijack this policy and construe it into a matter of so-called ‘religious freedom’, a nifty get-out-of-jail-free card which allows them to oppose equality whilst holding off accusations of homophobia and bigotry. In many ways it’s comical seeing these MPs develop, overnight in some cases, such a high regard for preserving Church doctrine, as if they were the voices of the CofE within the Commons.
Far less laughable, is the reality that a great swathe of backbenchers are being allowed to hide behind this argument, when their principal objection is not one of religious pedantry, but is just prejudice like any other, a belief that gay people cannot and must not be allowed to marry. Peter Bone MP couldn’t have demonstrated this to greater effect when he suggested this week that teachers would be forced into suggesting that same-sex relationships were of equal value to heterosexual ones. Religious concern? Do me a favour, that’s homophobia plain and simple.
The point worth making, which in the present climate seems taboo, is that sure, religious freedoms are important, but why must the debate centre on extending gay equality within a context of not upsetting the Church? Surely the fundamental ‘freedoms’ of somebody who is born a certain way ought to take precedence over those of somebody who has, ultimately, made an active and conscious decision to practice a faith.
The government holds a misconception that large parts of British society hold sympathy with the church’s view, though I suspect this is more to do with the Tory party fearing a backlash from the right at the 2015 election. Equal marriage will happen, and champions of equality everywhere can take pride and joy in that fact. Sadly, however, if this debate has taught us one thing, it is that the ‘modern’ Conservative Party has far from thrown off its label of the ‘nasty party’, and in spite of the efforts of a more liberally-inclined leadership, still contains large swathes of members and MPs who are both stuck in the past and increasingly out of touch with the people of Britain.
If malicious policy decisions over student fees and disability benefits weren’t enough to convince the British people that the Tory party are out of touch, then this latest, and unashamed display of bigotry surely must.
* Olly Hudson is a party member from South Wales