A victory for equality: 3 pieces of news about the same sex marriage bill

I thought it might be useful to do a quick catch-up on various aspects of the parliamentary debate on same sex marriage which took place on Monday and Tuesday.

How did Liberal Democrat MPs vote on the Third Reading?

There were no huge surprises – and given that 11 had voted on an amendment, which was defeated, to give registrars an opt out from marrying same sex couples on religious grounds, the fact that only 4 actually voted against the Third Reading was better than some had expected. Simon Hughes and Tim Farron were two high profile abstainers. They clearly struggled with the issue. Simon’s speech in the debate on Monday night showed his inner conflict:

 First, I have struggled with the issue of sexuality since I was a teenager, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). I remember that at school it was not an easy issue in the slightest. Everybody knew that there were gay people at school, but it was never taught or spoken about formally. Secondly, I am chair of the board of governors of a Church of England primary school. Thirdly, I am a trustee of a Church of England secondary school. We have excellent teachers who do their jobs very well, but I have to say that there is still some nervousness.

It  is a valid point that kids in a similar position at school today might, because of legislation like this, have an easier time of it. Some people in the party will undoubtedly and understandably feel let down and angry by their choice.  I will take comfort from the fact that they didn’t obstruct the bill, nor did they put it in any danger of not being passed. I’m not going to stop liking them or working with them just because of this vote. Life is too short for that. I am a particular admirer of Sarah Teather’s passionate commitment to improving support for those in the immigration system. Votes on this issue do not cancel out good work in other areas.

As I said yesterday, I think it’s also important to note that all Liberal Democrats MPs have been nothing but respectful in their public comments on this matter. There has been much to cause offence coming from the Tory benches, but not from ours.

So, the summary:

Against

As before, Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwistle, John Pugh and Sarah Teather

Absentions

Simon Hughes, Tim Farron

Unclear

David Ward hadn’t voted on anything all week so may not have been in Parliament. Sir Robert Smith was there on Monday, but it’s unclear whether he abstained or was absent last night. (Update: he was absent, travelling back to Scotland).

In favour

The remaining 43. We can add to them 5 MPs who were not there for various good reasons and who had otherwise expressed support. Bob Russell, who was telling, had also told the Coalition for Equal marriage he was in favour. So, 49 of our 57 are unequivocally in support of the Bill.

Lynne Featherstone emails party members

Today we took a huge step forward for equality as MPs voted overwhelmingly to support equal marriage. I am proud that we, as Liberal Democrats, began this in Government and tonight were supported across the House. We all played our part, and you can be confident that we wouldn’t be where we are now without our party in the Coalition Government.

I know many of you have been following the debate closely and adding your voice to the campaign. Thank you.

But our LGBT+ friends and family can’t go to the register office just yet.  The next stage is the House of Lords.

For now though, with the Bill safely through the House of Commons, let’s take a moment to reflect on this victory for equality and celebrate those who made this possible. Make sure you tell all your friends on Twitter.

Best wishes,

Lynne Featherstone MP

One of those occasions that I as a Scottish member doesn’t really mind getting an email that doesn’t apply to Scotland.

I think we should also acknowledge the input of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats in this, from bringing the motion on equal marriage to Conference, to engaging with our MPs and informing them in the run up to this debate. It’s taken many dedicated, patient and painstaking hours of work and we wouldn’t be here without them either.

The best speech of the debate

Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat star of the debate for me, over the whole two days and for more than the looks of horror and bemusement when offensive comments were made by Tory MPs. He supported amendments allowing humanist celebrants to conduct marriages and in support of transgender people. Sadly, these were not put to the vote because of Government objections, but he explains very well the legal anomalies and real hurt experienced by transgender people:

One problem that many transgender people face is when their marriage is stolen from them. A number of people are in a perfectly stable and loving married couple, one of whom wishes to transition. I know a number of people in that category. As it happens, the ones I know have been male to female transitions, but that is not uniquely so at all. Under the current law, for somebody to transition, they have to end the marriage. We, the state, say to people who still love each other, “You must get a divorce and break your marriage.” They were allowed a civil partnership when those were introduced, but they still have to go through that process, which is quite an upsetting thing to do.

I would recommend you watch the whole thing here from about 16:27 in. Julian illustrates very well  and very practically the problems that trans people face on a daily basis. These issues need resolving and it’s important that people become more aware of them.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • lloyd harris 22nd May '13 - 1:15pm

    Hear Julian Huppert speak on the Trans amendments and agree he made the best speech. Unfortunately didn’t catch the vote on that section so disappointing to hear it was withdrawn.

    I hear the humanist amendment was withdrawn when it was pointed out the poor drafting would allow the RSPB or similar to conduct marriages. Hopefully both of these will get re-drafted to remove concerns when it goes to the lords.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd May '13 - 4:01pm

    Well, that was the Attorney General’s rather obtuse interpretation of it, which was rebutted very effectively by Julian. The example the AG gave was “tiddlywinks society” and he was more than scornful about the whole idea.

  • I was previously unaware, before the recent debates, of the trans situation. How intrusive and unfair. I could understand if it were allowed as a reason for the “other” spouse to get a quickie divorce where their husband/wife had transitioned against their will – but not for the state to do it automatically to a happy couple. Surely this has to be the next change?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd May '13 - 10:47am

    Caron Lindsay

    It is a valid point that kids in a similar position at school today might, because of legislation like this, have an easier time of it

    I don’t believe that will be the case. If you tell kids “there are boys who like boys, and there are girls who like girls”, will they just settle down and accept it? Or will they become obsessed with trying to work out who amongst them fits this, and then bully them because they are different? The reality is that since most kids are not gay, obsessively pushing this issue, as the social elite in this country do, will just cause most kids to want to demonstrate that they are not gay. The result is to push them all into acting in a hyper-sexualised typically “male” or “female” way in order to show it.

    Sorry, that is just how I remember it happening when I was school. Any boy who did not fit into the stereotypical “male” pattern of being aggressive, uncaring, and anti-intellectual, was dismissed by the rest as “…the word then used pejoratively for gay people …” and ran the risk of being bullied for it. Most of those who were bullied for it were NOT gay. I suspect some of those doing the bullying were. If you ran the risk of being bullied for not being a loud-mouthed violent education-hating male, your best chance of survival was to pretend you were and join in the bullies.

    Becoming obsessive about this and suggesting that any kid who gets homophobic abuse aimed at him/her must be gay will make things worse, not better. Given that kids will bully other kids for doing all sorts of things which are legal or even admired, I really cannot see how gay marriage is going to stop homophobic bullying. What would be better would be to stop going on and on and on about people being either gay or straight, which just pushes the majority into acting in a naive way they believe indicates they fall into the latter rather than the former. Instead, we need to put the message across that there are many different ways to live, some people are naturally quiet, some people don’t particularly like stereotypical “male” or “female” things, without that necessarily indicating any sort of preference about physical sexual issues.

  • “If you tell kids “there are boys who like boys, and there are girls who like girls”, will they just settle down and accept it? Or will they become obsessed with trying to work out who amongst them fits this, and then bully them because they are different?”

    Matthew, I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but I believe teachers have been telling pupils that “there are boys who like boys” for quite some years now. Who knows, some of the pupils may even have known about homosexuality before they were taught about it …

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd May '13 - 11:53am

    Matthew Huntbach : “If you tell kids “there are boys who like boys, and there are girls who like girls”, will they just settle down and accept it? Or will they become obsessed with trying to work out who amongst them fits this, and then bully them because they are different? The reality is that since most kids are not gay, obsessively pushing this issue, as the social elite in this country do, will just cause most kids to want to demonstrate that they are not gay.

    You are right and as usual Matthew, you show an understanding of real-life and how people actually behave – away from the tiny bubble – world of Liberal Democrat politics in Westminster.

    The word ‘gay’ is used among boys as young as seven as a term of abuse at another who is slightly different. This goes on in 2013 – it went on in 1970 and so on. They do not know what it means but use it anyway. This is but one term in a lexicon of words used to bully and hurt other children. If people in London think their decrees will help fight this they are sadly misinformed – if one word becomes taboo, another word will be used to bully and hurt.

    According to the chattering middle classes and politically correct obsessives, it can be weeded out by educating children about who loves who and that it is the ‘same’ as mummy and daddy. I am convinced, like you, that it will not stop the bullying – it will entrench differentiation even more and label people even more. It will also end up sexualising children and raise consciousness of sex and sexuality among the very young in our attempts to explain this minefield- sexualisation of children is already a problem in society.

    I am most concerned with the bullying that will go on in schools over teachers and there will be great fear over how to approach gay marriage and explain the differences between this and religious marriage – of course I hope consciences are respected but unfortunately some over zealous Heads and parents could end up persecuting teachers either for promoting gay relationships or discriminating against them. Bullying isn’t just confined to one group.

  • Helen / Matthew: Do you really think that by encouraging the general populace to think that marriage is about people loving one another, irrespective of gender, we will be entrenching differentiation? Bullying will always happen I accept; humans, and especially adolescent children, like to select out and pick on difference. The challenge is what we as a society do to mitigate its affects and reduce its occurrence.

    I don’t think that I’m a chattering middle-class politically correct obsessive, I’m just a gay man, who has a civil partnership, and who would like to think that my relationship is afforded the same status as those of my hetero-sexual friends who can say legitimately that they are married. I’d like to refer you to the excellent speech on the matter delivered by the NZ politician (see: http://news.sky.com/story/1079776/new-zealand-mps-gay-marriage-speech-goes-viral) .

    Sexualisation is different to sexual awareness, and children have always been sexual aware. This legislation will make it easier to explain why Uncle Peter and Uncle Steve are together, and in the playground will make it less of a topic of difference or differentiation. Our visibility, and our commitment, will be the route to its normalisation. I look forward to seeing a generation of children who grow up in country where two men, or two women, can be married, and publicly so, and I think the effect on those children will be a reduction, not an increase in their sexualisation, because at the end of the day the legislation is not about what anyone does in bed, it is about what we do in public, and how we celebrate love and commitment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd May '13 - 2:41pm

    Chris

    Matthew, I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but I believe teachers have been telling pupils that “there are boys who like boys” for quite some years now.

    Yes, and …? Has it resulted in a decline of bullying making use of homophobic terms?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd May '13 - 2:46pm

    Mark Platt, I don’t think your civil partnership makes you any less of a person or gives you any less of status than someone who is married any more than I think someone who has made a commitment to a celibate life in a religious order is less of a person because they are not married. It would seem to me the homophobes are those who declare your life choice to be of a lower status if it is not forced to use a pretend-heterosexuality term for it.

  • Matthew

    Who knows? I was just pointing out that your previous comment seemed to be concerned with education on another planet (or in another century), not this one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th May '13 - 1:59am

    Chris

    Who knows? I was just pointing out that your previous comment seemed to be concerned with education on another planet (or in another century), not this one.

    Well perhaps you should try reading what I wrote rather than jumping to conclusions.

    In fact what I was writing was based not just on my own experience at school, but also what I have heard from younger people who were at school in this country and in this century. In fact what I hear from younger people suggests the situation has become much worse – the sort of mild joshing I remember at school aimed at any boy who was a bit “cissy” (to use one of the milder terms) now seems to be fully-fledged homophobic abuse aimed at anyone who doesn’t conform to a very narrow stereotypical conventional sexually successful male or female image.

    The claim was made by Caron Lindsay that extending the term “marriage” to cover a same-sex partnership would end this. I don’t believe it will. The argument I am using is that all the efforts to promote gay equality in the decades since I left school don’t seem to have improved things so far as this bullying issue goes, if anything it seems to have got worse. Why do you hold that what I am saying, from my own experience and from what I have heard from young people I know, is somehow coming from another planet or from another century?

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