Lib Dem conference to be asked to approve gay marriage proposal

Today’s Independent reports:

The Liberal Democrats are to use their first party conference in government to adopt a radical new policy calling for gay marriage.

The paper points out the tensions such a policy could spark with the socially conservative right-wing among the Tories. However, I’m intrigued by the paper’s suggestions that it also “risks causing deep divisions with … the traditional Methodist wing of the Lib Dems”. As a nonconformist myself (albeit not Methodist), I’d never realised that defined me as being part of a clique within the Lib Dems. Nor that my religious views would prevent me from supporting equal gay rights. Thank goodness for journalists, who seem to understand the Lib Dems better than we do ourselves.

The move to recognise gay marriage was signalled by Nick Clegg at the start of the year, and the party has made no bones about this being seen as a way of differentiating the Lib Dems from the Conservative while the two parties are in coalition:

A Lib Dem source said: “There will undoubtedly be some people that will speak against it, especially from the various religious groups. But this is something that the party as a whole has been calling for. It will be a key issue for us in defining ourselves against the Tories.” …

The gay marriage motion will be voted on immediately before deputy leader Simon Hughes’s keynote speech. He will use it as a sign of the Lib Dems striking a new, distinctive policy agenda on which to fight the next general election. Mr Hughes, who is bisexual, has backed the move and hopes that enshrining it into policy will put pressure on his coalition partners.

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  • Actually, most of the non-conformists I know have been at the forefront of this campaign – I don’t see any dramatic opposition as the Indy predicts.

    And it is true that a large number of the traditional ‘Liberals’ were, somewhat inevitably, non-conformists… This tradition has continued.

  • Good stuff. Leading on this one isn’t nearly as risky as it might have been even just five or ten years ago.

  • I’ll proudly vote for this at conference, and will be genuinely surprised if any Lib Dems vote against.

  • Can’t see the problem, most of the public and media call Civil Partnerships “gay marriage”. The Unitarians have beaten the state to this anyway having same-sex marriage ceremonies.

  • Clearly you’re either not old enough, or haven’t read too much history of the party (or both!) Stephen!

  • Colin Green 8th Aug '10 - 1:48pm

    I’m torn over this issue. I’m quite happy for gay couples to be allowed to live the way they choose but I don’t want to devalue marriage which I see as a union between a man and a woman. Personally I see civil partnerships as the best compromise. It allows gay couples to be recognised by law and gives provision for next of kin rights and so on but without interfering with marriage. For me, Liberalism is allowing one person their rights without interfering with another’s. Rather than imposing one thing on everyone, why not leave it as it is.

  • Should scrap marriage in the legal system altogether and have civil partnerships for all. Let religious people decide what marriage is and is not amongst themselves.

  • I’m sad that the article is being framed in terms of gay rights, ignoring in particular trans people who have to divorce or dissolve a marriage or CP on transition, which this policy will end.

    But Dave, that’s not a trans issue, surely? If anything, it’s a victory for transgender rights – it’s only because their new gender is legally recognised that their marriage is dissolved (because it becomes a gay marriage which isn’t legally recognised). Of course it’s still good that full gay marriage would prevent the need for dissolution in the first place.

    Oliver, I don’t have the full wording of the motion to hand, but certainly one intent on submission was to allow both marriage and civil partnership to all couples, regardless of the genders involved.

    That sounds good – I was going to ask about this. Hat’s off to the authors of the motion!

  • Colin,
    I’ve heard the view you express a thousand times but I’ve never understood what it’s supposed to mean. Maybe you can explain it to me. In what way would gay marriage diminish, reduce or otherwise affect traditional marriage?

  • Colin – as an addendum to IainM’s question, what is it that causes you to view marriage ad between a man and a woman? Is it the biological ability to have children? (and if so how do you view married couples who either can’t or choose not to?). Or do you view gay and straight relationships as fundamentally different in some way, regardless of children? And if so how? (ps I’m not actually being facetious – it’s nice to be able to ask these questions of someone you don’t expect to just rant back at you!)

  • Colin Green 8th Aug '10 - 7:21pm

    Dave Page, Far from me imposing my view onto same sex couples, I don’t want other people to impose their views of marriage onto me. I recognise that many people don’t share my views on marriage but that doesn’t mean my views are wrong nor that I shouldn’t be allowed to hold them. I do sometimes feel in these discussions that marriage is under attack from those who don’t like it. The tone is that because they think gay marriage and straight marriage is the same, anyone who thinks differently is therefore “bigoted” or “wrong”. The arguements then go on to express the view that people must be made to conform to the “correct” (or should that be politically correct) point of view. I, on the other hand, simply want to make room for both points of view.

    Catherine, Nothing to do with children. OK, I’ll have to out myself as Christian. The Bible describes the marriage of a man and a woman as a reflection of God and as such they should be monogamous and devoted to each other in a list of ways that reflect God. I guess I see the term Marriage as one of those protected terms like “Dietitian” or “Dentist”. There are certain conditions you have to meet to use the term. I fully agree that same sex couples should be treated equally, both socially and under the law.

    A neat solution would be to call the legal part of relationships a civil partnership regardless of the genders of each partner. The term marriage could then be left to those religious groups who wish to use the term. The Hindu use of the word may differ from the Jewish use but that’s just fine with me.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Aug '10 - 8:29pm

    “A neat solution would be to call the legal part of relationships a civil partnership regardless of the genders of each partner. The term marriage could then be left to those religious groups who wish to use the term. The Hindu use of the word may differ from the Jewish use but that’s just fine with me.”

    So atheists wouldn’t be able to marry either.

    It’s an odd concept you have of not wanting to impose your views on other people!

  • So what it comes down to is that the bible mentions marriage, therefore Christians own the definition of word ‘marriage’?

  • Colin Green 8th Aug '10 - 9:15pm

    Anthony Aloysius St
    “So atheists wouldn’t be able to marry either.”

    Plenty of atheists choose to marry in church. I don’t see why that should change.


    Did I mention Jews and Hindus in my comment? Would you prefer a full list of religious beliefs? Up until quite recently the word marriage only meant a union between a man and a woman. You may want to change that definition. Yours is only one opinion.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Aug '10 - 9:25pm

    “Plenty of atheists choose to marry in church. I don’t see why that should change.”

    Evidently we should be grateful for small mercies!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Aug '10 - 9:31pm

    But seriously, anyone who thinks they can turn the clock back to 1837 and reclaim marriage as an exclusively religious institution is living in cloud cuckoo land – and quite obviously seeking to impose his own religious beliefs on the rest of society in the most illiberal manner imaginable.

  • See I would have said that marriage was a union between two people, and the fact that this only previously applied to heterosexual couples was an indirect result of the illegality of all other forms of sexuality.

    That’s by the by though. You still haven’t explained how a gay couple choosing to call their arrangement ‘marriage’ diminishes or soils the marriages of heterosexual or even deeply devout couples. If you could do this you’d be on your way to a convincing argument, but as it stands all you’re saying is ‘I should be allowed to impose my beliefs on others because the bible says so’, which just isn’t going to wash.

  • Colin Green 8th Aug '10 - 10:31pm


    “See I would have said that marriage was a union between two people” – Which is fine. We have a difference of opinion which is something I’ve always been happy to live with.

    “You still haven’t explained how a gay couple choosing to call their arrangement ‘marriage’ diminishes the marriages of heterosexual couples”. – It doesn’t diminish a couple’s individual marriage but the institution of marriage. My outlining of the biblical institution of marriage was intentionally over-brief. I don’t want a theological discussion here and it would probably be unwelcome. I was only hoping to outline the source of my belief in marriage.

    “all you’re saying is ‘I should be allowed to impose my beliefs on others because the bible says so’”. – That certainly isn’t how it feels to me, though of course I may be wrong. My intention is to give equal legal rights to all people whilst protecting an institution I believe in. I will only counter this by saying you are equally trying to impose on me your definition of marriage as I am in imposing mine. Perhaps we are both wrong.

    It is clear from many discussions that a number of atheists place zero value on religious belief and so form their opinions based on other factors alone. People who have a faith will take the teachings of that faith into account when forming their views. Perhaps we will never agree, a bit like the Conservative and Labour colleagues of mine who discuss endlessly but totally miss the thrust of the other’s argument. They seem to co-exits amiably enough though.

  • @Colin Green

    Civil marriage long pre-dates Christianity. In fact, many people overlook that marriage was not designed by or for religion. It is an agreement between two individuals sanctioned by the state. Any other views on marriage are entirely subjective.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Aug '10 - 10:54pm

    “I will only counter this by saying you are equally trying to impose on me your definition of marriage as I am in imposing mine.”

    Of course he isn’t.

    You might just as well have said, 40-odd years ago, that those advocating the legalisation of homosexuality were “trying to impose” their sexual morality on you.

    You’re the one who is expecting the rest of society to frame its laws in accordance with your personal religious beliefs!

  • Colin,

    What is the “institution of marriage” you are trying to protect? As far as I can see it’s meaningless beyond just another way of saying “my own concept of marriage”, which means we’re back to a dispute over the ownership of a word.

    I’m an atheist (I’m sure you hadn’t guessed 🙂 ). I haven’t set foot inside a church in my adult life and my wedding was conducted in a registry office without a single reference to a higher power, yet I call my marriage a “marriage” because that’s what it is.

    Your attempts to draw equivalence between our positions are totally disingenuous. Your position denies homosexuals the right to define their relationship as they would like, and as everyone else can – it tangibly affects them – while my position denies you absolutely nothing. Legalising gay marriage affects the rights of heterosexual people not one iota. The worst it can do is offend your sensibilities, but you have no more right to have your sensibilities protected than would a white supremicist who objected to inter-racial marriage.

  • @Colin Green

    Hi Colin.

    I’m having difficulty seeing the persuasive force of your thoughts on gay marriage as an imposition of values. All assertions of rights by the State have the potential to impose views on the rest of us. Racists don’t think I should be a British citizen as an ethnic minority, but should that really be a determinate in whether my citizenship is recognised by the State. Surely not. My rights trump other peoples values. Could it not be the same for gay marriage? Isn’t the issue whether or not the gay person has a right to define marriage as they see fit?

    I understand the difficultly you face on this issue, due to your religious views. But surely the Bible has the perfect answer: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. IE: keep religious doctrine and politics separate?

  • @Colin Green
    Please don’t take my previous post as an attack. I understand your views, I am only seeking clarification and I hope to persuade you that any perceived imposition of values, is not so invasive as to compromise your beliefs.

  • Derek Young 9th Aug '10 - 12:08pm

    Forgive the length of this comment – a little context and subtlety is sometimes necessary to make more than one complicated point.

    The Scottish Party passed a motion calling for something similar to this in March of this year. There were a handful of opponents, but not many. Most of them objected on religious grounds. One person who opposed it felt that the State should get out of the business of sanctioning marriage altogether. When I spoke in the debate, I admired the sentiment, but noted that this was impractical. A marriage isn’t only a public declaration of mutual commitment – it involves accepting a distinct legal status which brings with it legal rights and responsibilities (albeit no longer any tax advantages, much to the Tories’ chagrin). If, circumstances forbidding, I was in a horrible accident and, for any reason, a doctor wanted to deny my wife access to my hospital room or involvement in any decision-making about my treatment if I were unconscious, she could rightly say, “I’m married to him – you can’t stop me”. Because of this special status, and these rights and responsibilities, the formation (and termination) of marriage does need to be regulated, and the State is the only game in town for that.

    But in Scotland the picture is slightly different from England and Wales, because since June 2005 people in Scotland have been able to choose to have not only a civil or religious marriage, but also a legal humanist one (see My wife, as well as being a Lib Dem councillor, is a humanist celebrant who can legally marry people. So our concept of marriage is even further removed from being a religious preserve. However, humanists cannot conduct legal civil partnerships, because the 2005 Act governing these does not allow for “other” persons (i.e. not civil registrars or religious celebrants) to conduct these ceremonies, whereas the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 does. Same-sex couples with humanist sympathies must have their civil partnership through a civil registrar, although many feel that style of ceremony to be cold, soulless and over-formal. Some choose to get the “formal” bit over in the morning, and then have a full (but non-legal) humanist same-sex affirmation ceremony later in the day, which is the bit they invite guests to, and which they regard (but the law does not) as the real deal. This is exactly the position in which humanist heterosexual couples wishing to marry find themselves in England and Wales. So an amendment to the Scottish Party motion (which was passed unanimously) called for equal forms of civil, humanist and religious marriage between two people of either sex, though not of course forcing religious institutions to allow same-sex marriage where that was contrary to their belief system.

    For what it’s worth, when I spoke in the debate I noted that my views on the wider issue were encapsulated wonderfully (though somewhat surprisingly) by the judgement of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (see It wrote:

    “[m]arriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry … [and] is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.”

    “Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

    Therefore, without the right to choose to marry, same-sex couples are not only denied full protection of the laws, but are “excluded from the full range of human experience.”

    “The marriage ban works a deep and scarring hardship on a very real segment of the community for no rational reason.

    “The absence of any reasonable relationship between the same-sex marriage ban and a justification based on the protection of public health, safety, or general welfare, suggests that the marriage restriction is rooted in persistent prejudices against persons who are (or who are believed to be) homosexual.”

    “The Constitution cannot control such prejudices but neither can it tolerate them. Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect. Limiting the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the basic premises of individual liberty and equality under the law …”

    The Court gave the state legislature six months to enact legislation allowing same-sex marriage. A couple of months later, the legislature asked the Court for an advisory opinion on whether civil unions – like our civil partnerships – would comply with the court’s earlier ruling. They advised emphatically that it would not, writing:

    “having a separate institution for same-sex couples only compounds, rather than corrects, the constitutional infirmity.” Establishing a separate “civil union” status for same-sex couples “would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits,” the court explained. “The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal.”

    The question I posed to Conference was, if the same-sex marriage ban is no good for liberty, and no good for equality, then what on earth is it good for? If we conclude that it is good for nothing, then the right thing to do is to sweep it away.

  • Why isn’t Stonewall doing a survey?

    I think the lib dems new proposed policy is excellend…just wish all the parties would do the same!

    Not only solves the problem of the inequality in Britain towards gays and straights but also solves the problem of not recognising gay marriages from abroad for what they are and also the ridiculous sitution where straight CPs from other countries have to first divorce/dissolve their CP in their own country in order to get married in the UK – without doing this they can get no rights at all here! Amazingly straight CPs from abroad are in a worst sitution to us – how can the UK recognise foreign gay CPs and not their equivalent straight counterparts ….

    Internationally CPs are NOT necessarily a gay thing and marriages are NOT necessarily a straight thing.

    How can our parties call for the recognition of the CP abroad when the UK refuses to recognise foreign CPs – WE ONLY RECOGNISE GAY CPs!!!! why should foreign countries reciprocate and recognise the British one when Britain choses to discriminate and only recognise gay CPs..

    Hasn’t Nick Clegg made it clear that he want our CPs recognised abroad?

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