Opinion: The same sex marriage bill is not perfect, but Lib Dem MPs should get behind it

In the next week it is likely that The Marriage (Same Sex) Bill will pass it’s third reading in the House of Commons and then will go up to the House of Lords. This is without hesitation good news for Liberal Democrats – a key part of the fight for equality will move forwards, it’s party policy and something that many members, individuals, charities and support groups have been pushing for.

The debate has been loud, full and genuine and sincere – the first debate in the House of Commons was emotional, real and heartfelt as members on all sides of the House spoke about why the time had come for this legislation.

The committee stage in the House of Commons –with Liberal Democrats Stephen Williams MP and Stephen Gilbert MP for the Liberal Democrats – was a model on taking evidence thoughtfully and intelligently.

At every stage of this LGBT+ Liberal Democrats have been engaged with our Parliamentary Party in the Commons – sending our magazine, letters, briefings and a booklet on the need for Equal Marriage.

Many people were surprised and disappointed when four of our MPs voted against the Bill at first and second readings. I can say that Sarah Teather, Sir Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwhistle and John Pugh all engaged and met with myself and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats. We disagreed, but their opinions and views were heartfelt – but I say to them now, you have made your objection known –now the Bill is ready to become law. Please do not stand on the wrong side of history – allow this Bill to pass – respect the changes that have occurred in society and at the very least abstain next week.

But I say to all our MPs now – as I will say to our Lords – if you have doubts, concerns – please do speak to us (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats) before the vote. This is an issue that really matters and it’s important as a Party that we get it right.  You can contact either myself [email protected] or Adrian Trett on [email protected]

It looks like the pension rights of Transgender citizens will be recognised, that an amendment on humanist marriages might have all party consensus and that the Government may consult on extending civil partnerships to all – there will all be improvements. They are improvements we should all welcome.

The bottom line is that another piece of equality moves closer – the bill is not perfect, few bills are – but it’s a major step in the right direction.

LGBT+ Liberal Democrats is one of the party’s leading campaigning groups for equality, is the fastest growing SAO in the party and has been working for equal rights for all. Ed Fordham is it’s Vice-Chair.

* Ed Fordham is a councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council and runs Brockwell Books of Chesterfield, selling many thanks, not least ephemera he bought from Liber Books over the last 25 years.

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26 Comments

  • Melanie Harvey 16th May '13 - 12:34pm

    That may or may not have been perfect wording for the title of this !

  • Few bills are perfect. Especially when they address equality but this is a good bill. Unfortunately equality before the law comes slowly, take the decriminalisation of homosexuality for example, but this is an important step forward.

  • Paul in twickenham 16th May '13 - 5:20pm

    It is truly a joy to witness the changes in opinion on the subject of gay marriage over the last 20 years. Take a look at the historical polling data from the USA at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States .

    It is the courage and vision of so many gay men and women who have come out to friends and family that has resulted in this sea change in opinion. Acceptance of equal marriage has been normalised and opposition is now viewed – even by Republicans – as little more than prejudice.

    Well done by the Lib Dems for being staunch supporters of gay equality even when the Tories were at their bigoted worst. And good work in making this happen, particularly by Lynne Featherstone and LGBT Lib Dems.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th May '13 - 12:13am

    @ Ed Fordham:

    ” We disagreed, but their opinions and views were heartfelt – but I say to them now, you have made your objection known –now the Bill is ready to become law. Please do not stand on the wrong side of history – allow this Bill to pass – respect the changes that have occurred in society and at the very least abstain next week.”

    To put this in plain terms – “You v’e made you point now like good Lib Dems do the decent thing, put consciences and a lifetime of belief behind you and accept the will of those who favour the Bill. and if you really must object, just abstain and don’t make a fuss…”

    How patronising and frankly illiberal. As Liberals, conscience is key and whether they are ‘on the wrong side of history’ (whatever that loaded phrase means in this context) or not, makes no matter if they remain true to themselves and their values. If the four MPs vote against, I will be thankful that at least some MPs use their conscience and are not swayed because they want to travel up the career ladder or please vocal interest groups in the Party.

  • @George Potter — Ah, but if you follow Helen Tedcastle’s reasoning, you will find that preventing religious groups that want to perform same-sex marriages is not an infringement of religious freedom, because those groups are not *real* religions; they’re just petty little “heterodox” associations of fringe thinkers who don’t have big churches and cathedrals and entire school systems to run, my Goodness. Therefore they don’t count. And how do we know they’re “heterodox”? Why, because they support same-sex marriage, which no *real* religion would do; quod erat demonstrandum. In fact, any religion that would support same-sex marriage is thereby disqualified from the right to ask to perform same-sex marriage. The wonderful thing about cyclical logic is that it is utterly immune to any evidence or input from the real world, and it always produces the same answer!

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '13 - 3:21am

    I have to say I am not impressed with the bullying and hateful insults against people who think marriage should be kept as it is. I’m in favour of gay marriage, and adoption, teaching in schools – the whole lot, but I don’t see where the hate comes from for those that disagree.

    The only thing I can relate it to is my hate of quasi communists, but I suppose that is because I think those people choose to hate others who have been successful and make them feel guilty for it, rather than be happy for them.

    Yes you can bang on about the poor, but I don’t see any of these quasi communists leaving behind the riches of the UK to live in the third world; which is what they would do if they were truly selfless.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '13 - 3:58am

    I must clarify, I don’t actually hate those on the far left, just as some on the pro equal marriage campaign don’t actually hate the opponents. I suppose we are just talking about what makes us angry.

  • David Evans 17th May '13 - 9:15am

    Yes, this thread, like almost all the others is immediately tainted by people referring to bigotry with reference to those they disagree with. It’s very sad that a good cause like this has to be hijacked by those who seem close to despising those with a different view.

  • Paul in twickenham 17th May '13 - 4:16pm

    It might be interesting to see an argument against equal marriage that is not based on appeal to divine authority or self-evident homophobia. Of the 2 US Republican senators who have declared in favour, one has a gay son and the other is recovering from a stroke and returned to the Senate saying that he would have “an open mind and greater respect for others”. Read into that what you will.

  • “To put this in plain terms – “You v’e made you point now like good Lib Dems do the decent thing, put consciences and a lifetime of belief behind you and accept the will of those who favour the Bill. and if you really must object, just abstain and don’t make a fuss…””

    Why is it so unbelievably hard for you to understand that what liberals object to is the attempt by religious people to impose the rules laid down by their “lifetime of belief” on others who do not share their religion?

    But thanks, at any rate, for having the honesty to acknowledge that the objection is a fundamentally religious one.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '13 - 7:05pm

    For people like Alex let me try another angle. It’s fine to get angry about something (of course), but can we tone down the language just a little bit? At the end of the day we’re all just humans with a desire to love and be loved – there is no need for all the malice in this debate.

  • Mark in Darlington 18th May '13 - 1:14am

    Ok let’s discuss semantics then.

    If the word bigot is not an appropriate description for people who use their conscience as an excuse for prejudiced behaviour then what is a better word?

    I respect their right to hold hostile views towards LGBT people, I also have no problem with them regarding us as sinners, sick or second class citizens – it honestly doesn’t affect me. But when they actively start using their votes to oppose redressing such a fundamental injustice – I cannot find any other politically correct word which describes these people.

    I cannot agree with Ed Fordham’s view that this bill is great news for Liberal Democrats. The lack of leadership on this issue is tearing the party apart. The argument that it is somehow ilLiberal to whip a vote for equality, yet it is Liberal to whip the trebling of tuition fees makes me physically sick.

    Fun fact: thesaurus.com lists ‘liberal’ as an antonym for bigot.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th May '13 - 10:36am

    What about those gay people who are against gay marriage – are they bigoted against themselves?

    I am in favour of gay marriage but I despair at the confrontational way this has been pushed through. I knew it would be a disaster from the start when Lynne Featherstone loftily announced that the consultation would be strictly about the “how”, not “whether”. That’s not the way to take people with you, which I feel is essential with an issue such as this. The end result has been a lot of ill-feeling and unpleasantness which has probably set the cause of gay equality back ten years.

  • Mark in Darlington 18th May '13 - 1:58pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    I have no problem with gay people who are against gay marriage in the same way as I have no issue with straigjht people who are against gay marriage. They are free to hold those opinions, and not get married to someone of their own sex.

    What I feel very strongly against is anyone, whether gay or straight, who will vote to prevent others excercising a civil right which they are being denied. By all means they can abstain, but when they place their own conscience above the dignity of a minority of their constituents, they have calculated that their personal beliefs are worth more than the well being of that minority.

    That is pure bigotry.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th May '13 - 11:35pm

    @ Chris: “Why is it so unbelievably hard for you to understand that what liberals object to is the attempt by religious people to impose the rules laid down by their “lifetime of belief” on others who do not share their religion?”

    No one is imposing anything – the law as it stands defines marriage as the union of male and female – As a Liberal who is against redefining marriage but was in favour of the establishment of civil rights for gays and lesbians eight years ago through civil partnerships, I cannot see what your problem is with different views in the party. Perhaps you would prefer it if we all thought the same way.

    Liberalism = liberty of conscience for those of religious faith or none, for those who are pushing for redefining marriage and those who want it to remain as it is.

    @ David: No. heterodox does not mean not real. It means they are not representative of the Christian and Jewish communities – I was objecting to Mark Pack’s original point about the gay marriage Bill being a way to give religious groups more freedom – it is not a freedom sought or wished for by the mainstream religious communities.

    Come to think of it – no party manifesto contained this liberating freedom for religious groups either!

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th May '13 - 11:40pm

    @ Alex Wilcock: Dear oh dear.

  • @Helen Tedcastle “Come to think of it – no party manifesto contained this liberating freedom for religious groups either!”

    Come to think of it, you’ve made this claim before and I’ve corrected it.

    On 3rd May 2010, during the General Election, the shadow equalities minister Theresa May launched the Conservative’s “Contract for Equalities” and this included the sentence “We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

    Nick Clegg had made his support clear in the 2010 General Election campaign.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th May '13 - 10:14am

    @ Mark Inskip: You have simply reinforced my point – redefining marriage was not in the manifestos or even the coalition agreement – the programme for this Government.

    I know that Nick Clegg and our Party’s policy favours the redefinition but as it was not in the programme for Government, it’s a bit odd that it has become the touchstone issue for it .

    It’s clear. Cameron and Osborne jumped on the policy to re-make the Tory brand – we’re just the conduit for this re-branding.

  • nuclear cockroach 19th May '13 - 10:40am

    This bill merely reflects the wider view of society, a view which has shifted over the past fifty years from a legal bar on practicing male homosexuality and open homophobia to one of tolerance and a broad acceptance of the normality of male and female homosexuality.

    Clearly the quicker the bill is passed into law, the sooner the arguments will be over.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th May '13 - 12:56pm

    @nuclear cockroach: ” Clearly the quicker the bill is passed into law, the sooner the arguments will be over.”

    A cynical view. You make it sound as if this debate is just a spat. It’s more than that and I think you know it.

    Also, please do not confuse civil rights with Gay marriage – couple have civil rights now and I supported that at the time and for years in fact. What is being pushed now is an unnecessary bleaching of diversity – this is not about equality at all but sameness because equal rights were won years ago. Human beings gay or straight are all equal but we are not the same. Men and women are equal but not the same. As a Liberal, I for one, comfortable with this not threatened by it.

  • @Helen Tedcastle: Religious freedom does not mean catering only to those élite religions which tout themselves as “mainstream.” It should not be the business of the law to favour so-called “mainstream” religions over others. It *should* be the business of the law to make sure that the rights of “non-mainstream” religions are respected.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th May '13 - 3:01pm

    @ David: Mainstream religious communities such as the Catholics and Methodists could hardly be described as ‘elite’ in the British context – Catholics were persecuted actively until the emancipation act of 1850, Jews also until 1856. Methodists are well known social radicals.This freedom to recognise gay marriage and carry out ceremonies, was not and is not sought after.

    It is particularly galling, as thanks to Harriet Harman, Catholic adoption agencies are now closed down because she would not recognise a conscience clause in the Equalities Act. Freedom for some, not others evidently.

    What those people who advocate ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ for gay people in marriage (even though civil rights are already equal) actually mean is freedom on our terms – with no resort to conscience matters.

    If equality means anything at all, it means the freedom to be different as well as equal under the law – again, it should mean freedom of conscience.

    On your point about minority religious groups having new freedom thanks to gay marriage – some religious minorities, not others – Catholics no, Quakers yes. Catholics for instance, do not tout anything – their religious teachings are broadly in line with other communities on marriage and have been for centuries (if not millennia in the case of the Orthodox) – Anglicans, Orthodox and Methodist – that is what is meant by mainstream. Again, they do not require or want the freedom to redefine marriage.

    Quakers have a proud heritage in this country and in the Liberal Party but they are radical non-conformists – this is what I mean by not mainstream – this has good and bad outcomes. On this issue, I happen to disagree with them and we come at this from radically different angles theologically, although we agree on matters of social justice and peace issues.

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