Shirley seeks to amend same-sex marriage bill: “Equality is not the same as sameness”

There’s no doubt Shirley Williams has many admirable qualities. For example, her passionate belief in free-at-the-point-of-use health-care, her passionate defence of excellent education for all, and her quite staggering propensity for appearing on BBC1’s Question Time.

But even the best of us err. First, there was her casual dismissal of sexual harrassment (“we have got somewhat obsessed about getting very exaggerated reactions to what is silly and impolite and discourteous behaviour”). And now there’s her attempt to de-rail same-sex marriage legislation. As PinkNews reports:

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Williams has tabled a new amendment urging for a legal separation between same-sex marriages and opposite sex marriages.

It states: “marriage between same-sex couples may be defined as same-sex marriage, lawful marriages between same-sex couples may be defined as same-sex marriages, lawful marriage between a man and a woman may be defined as opposite sex marriage and lawful marriages between a man and a woman may be defined as opposite sex marriages.”

Baroness Williams, one of the most senior figures in the Liberal Democrats, has also tabled an amendment allowing registrars to opt out of providing marriages to same-sex couples. … Baroness Williams argued that, as well as biological differences, men and women approach relationships differently – making opposite-sex couples the most “stable” parents. She said: “Equality is not the same as sameness”.

So there we have it… One of the most prominent Lib Dem peers arguing that marriage Isn’t simply defined by the love shared by two people, while exempting public sector employees from carrying out the law of the land…

Less of the same, please, Shirley.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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61 Comments

  • Kevin White 7th Jul '13 - 3:48pm

    Well she was a Social Democrat

  • Mark Yeates 7th Jul '13 - 4:06pm

    I am beginning to lose a lot of faith in Shirley, if I am totally honest. This plus her recent essay in the Nuffield Trusts ‘Wisdom of The crowd’ on the NHS, show she is very much she is changing her views on free at point of care NHS…She gives the usual caveats,

    ” I am a believer in everything being free
    if possible. But rather than see the NHS go down, one might be
    forced to consider that kind of thing. But only as an alternative
    to more people seeking or being forced into private provision,
    and with a clear statement by the government of its complete
    commitment to the retention of the NHS.”

    However, she suggests nominal charges for GP appointments and prescription charges for pensioners. Sorry that is off subject.

    As a gay man, I find a legal separation between gay and straight marriage, and the supposition that straight parents make better parents offensive and homophobic. It does sadden me, that a person I held aloft as one for social liberal values can so easily discard them when it comes to same sex relationships.

    Link to the above quote and collection essays ..

    http://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/publications/nhs-65

  • I am more critical of her amendment that allows registrars to opt out. On what possible grounds? The registrars are not priests, they are not chosen for their ability to provide moral guidance or moral judgements. They are there to to a basic job and certainly not to indulge in prejudicial behaviour. I would find it no less objectionable if a registrar wanted to opt out of registering the birth of a child on what the registrar might regard as moral grounds.

    I cannot see the point to distinguishing between same sex and opposite sex marriages (and really isn’t the difference obvious?) but accept that there might be some utility (perhaps, for instance, related to the fact that only one in a same sex marriage can be the biological mother).

  • Disappointing, but then so is the ECtHR ruling , that only marriage between a man and woman is a human right. I still admire Shirley and the ECtHR.

  • Stephen W

    Their job is to follow what he law prescribes. Their personal beliefs are irrelevant. If they do not want to do their job I am sure there are others who will do so.

  • “Baroness Williams argued that, as well as biological differences, men and women approach relationships differently – making opposite-sex couples the most “stable” parents.”

    That’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it?

    I can see that – logically – you could argue that if in general men are naturally less inclined to monagamy than women, then homosexual couples will generally be less stable than heterosexual couples. But wouldn’t that argument make lesbian couples the most stable of all?

  • Tony Greaves 7th Jul '13 - 6:48pm

    Once again we find Mr Tall using his privileged position in relation to this website to pursue his personal hobbyhorses. But it is what we have come to respect…

    I voted for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at Second Reading and I will vote for it again. But I repeat what I wrote before – I just wish people on both sides of this argument would try to understand the opposite positions a bit more and have more respect for other good Liberals who for take a different or more nuanced view.

    To say as Mark Yeatse does here that “As a gay man, I find a legal separation between gay and straight marriage, and the supposition that straight parents make better parents offensive and homophobic” indicates a lack of such understanding and respect. Only a few years ago such views were commonplace, even in this party. Both Liberal and public opinion has shifted very considerably in a short space of time.

    People whose views are carefully considered over a long lifetime, and in many cases have them rooted in their religious beliefs as well as their political beliefs, and who find the present position on single sex marriage difficult, do not deserve to be denounced in these brutalist terms.

    Of course there are people on the brutalist right who use similar language but Shirley and similar Liberal Democrats are not. As for the comment that “if they do not want to do their job…” that seems to me to be intolerant and unduly illiberal. Of course, I am happy with the view that anyone wanting to take up a career as a Registrar would do so in the light of the expected duties. But if those duties change radically, on a matter which everyone accepts is a matter of conscience (which is why Liberal Democrats have a free vote on the Bill), it seems to me that any decent employer will arrange matters so that an existing employee does not have to carry out duties to which they have a moral conscientious objection. I suspect that very few Registrars would take advantage of such flexibility but I would hope that the Government would agree that it is reasonable.

    Tony Greaves

  • It’s a shame that Shirley Williams did not read the letter from the head of registrars that pinknews published on their website the same day as this article. The head of registrars has explicitly asked the govt NOT to allow a conscience opt out for registrars. I sugest Tony Greaves and Shirley Williams ask the employees first what they want instead of stating that opt out for registrar is a desired and wanted thing!

  • Frankly people in this party tend to put too much faith in other people. If someone goes against a policy I oppose them. I don’t make excuses about how nice, great etc they are. We need to stop this personality worship. Williams isn’t a liberal, she never was. She’s a social democrat. She is seeking to impose her Catholicism on the rest of us whilst attacking the NHS. She won’t be missed by this liberal.

  • Greaves writes : ‘To say as Mark Yeatse does here that “As a gay man, I find a legal separation between gay and straight marriage, and the supposition that straight parents make better parents offensive and homophobic” indicates a lack of such understanding and respect. Only a few years ago such views were commonplace, even in this party’

    Commonplace perhaps, bigoted certainly. What’s your point? Because they were/are held by a lot of people they aren’t homophobic? And you make laws for me (not that you have been any democratic mandate to do so).

  • Zoe O'connell 7th Jul '13 - 7:15pm

    I get that Shirley is far from our favorite person when it comes to same-sex marriage, and she’s certainly lost support from me over earlier remarks on the matter.

    However, please do not fall for increasingly anti-LibDem bias from Pink News here. (Note that the headline states “Lib Dem”, the first two words of the article are “Liberal Democrat”, and they go on to mention it twice more just in case we forget)

    You can see the actual list of amendments at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0034/amend/ml034-ir.htm and the relevant one is number 85. The amendment was actually tabled by a cross-bench peer, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. Shirley put her name to it, alongside Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Tory) and Lord Lea of Crondall (Labour).

    Despite cross-party & cross-bench names on the amendment, it’s framed by Pink News as being entirely Shirley’s doing.

    They’re also missing out part of the amendment, which starts off: “there shall no difference or distinction be made between lawful marriage of same sex couples and lawful marriage between a man and a woman, save as provided for in this Act…”.

    As best I can figure out, the amendment just creates terms in legislation and has no actual, real world, effect.

  • We keep being told that thejustification for the un-elected HoL is that it is not there to overrule the will of the elected House but to use their collective experience and expertise to scrutinise and improve legislation. And yet we have Shirley Williams (& others) , when they find Govt legislation that goes against their personal beliefs, ignoring all that and having no qualms about trying to wreck it.
    I have personally written to Shirley about this over a number of years urging her to supprt it and asking for her views and yet ‘ve never had a single reply or indiocation that she had any problem with this.
    Of course we can understand that individuals ont he other side of the debatehave strong views and personal beliefs but I do not accept that Lib Dem (or any other party) members of the HoL have a right to use their position to impose through the civil law their personal religious beliefs upon the rest of society.

  • ‘As best I can figure out, the amendment just creates terms in legislation and has no actual, real world, effect’.

    Then why put it in legislation? Sort of undermines the whole point of legislation. Are is the aim to put it in so there is doubt and some future government and future courts can rely on it and interpret it to suit whatever their purposes are at that time?

  • Zoe O'connell 7th Jul '13 - 7:40pm

    Dave – Agreed, it’s definitely not a positive amendment that’s for sure.

    But there’s no excuse for the article Pink News ran, except to be partisan.

  • “on a matter which everyone accepts is a matter of conscience”

    Surely you realise that a lot of people don’t accept that it’s a “matter of conscience” when a legislator with certain religious beliefs votes in such a way as to impose those beliefs on those who don’t share them. A lot of people would say it was completely illiberal.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jul '13 - 7:56pm

    People need to abandon this notion that tolerance only works one way. It will make you happier too.

  • “People whose views are carefully considered over a long lifetime, and in many cases have them rooted in their religious beliefs as well as their political beliefs, and who find the present position on single sex marriage difficult, do not deserve to be denounced in these brutalist terms.”

    People who think that Black people are inherently inferior hold those beliefs sincerely, and have often considered them carefully too, Tony. Just because a belief is sincerely held or even religiously based does not mean it is correct or immune from robust criticism.

    As for the idea that Stephen has a position of power relative to Shirley Williams? That’s so patently ridiculous that I can barely believe your comment isn’t deliberate trolling to get us all cross so that you can then moan to your fellow lordships about how unreasonable we all are on the Internet.

  • Stephen W

    I do think the analogy of racially mixed marriages is illuminating on this point.

    If someone tried to legislate to allow registrars to opt out of performing mixed marriages, would you feel comfortable saying the kind of things you’re saying now?

    For example – “It is enough that black people can marry white people without feeling the need to vindictively force those who oppose into unemployment.”

  • @Stephen W – there is nothing liberal about tolerating the violation of one person’s dignity by another based on a feature of theirs that is innate and protected by law

    How embarrassing that any Lib Dem would advocate alterations to the Equality Act in order to achieve this opt-out – freedom of religion is essential but not unqualified and should not be allowed to deny another person the respect they deserve as a human being

  • Stephen W

    I find it increasingly annoying that belief is allowed to hide prejudice. A civil wedding is done under the auspices of the Government, expressing the democratic will of the people. There is no religious aspect to the civil wedding and so the religious belief of the registrar is irrelevant to the argument.

    There is nothing liberal by allowing religion to dictate to the non-religious. If an arrangement can be made then that is up to the local authority and the individual. No problem with that but if asked and the person refuses to carry out their job then it should be treated as any other disciplinary matter

    As I said if they cannot accept the democratic decision then I am sorry…..but.

  • John Roffey 7th Jul '13 - 9:30pm

    As a non gay male, the only reason I considered marriage was for the procreation of children and to provide a legal framework for raising them into adulthood – in the hope that they would be prepared for living in an ever increasingly complex world.

    With the near certainty of birth control methods – this seems to be a popular attitude these days.

    Why is the gay community’s attitude to marriage so different?

  • John Roffey

    Why is your attitude to marriage different from mine? It is all about my wife, children are a bonus (one that not all of us have managed to win unfortunately) – probably to you ours would also be a ‘second-class’ marriage. This seems to be a popular approach for the religious amongst us – marriage is all about procreation ‘cos it say so in the bible!

  • I fail to comprehend Tony Greaves’ point. Would he extend the same line of reasoning to a South African registrar, employed before 1990, who disapproved of ‘mixed race’ marriages? If not, why not?

  • John Roffey 7th Jul '13 - 9:54pm

    @ bcrombe

    No my attitude to marriage is not on religious grounds, it is that we humans are complex individuals who are developing different aspects of our character throughout our lives. The studies I have seen do seem to confirm that the ‘love’ aspect is relatively short lived in most relationships and the fact that so many marriages do breakdown so quickly does seem to support this view – effectively we are different people a decade later.

    If this is the case, marriage, or anything that is likely to prevent a quick an easy break up if either partner ‘grows out’ of the other should be avoided like the plague.

    This is not of course the case for those who marry to procreate and raise children, for we are presently seeing the terrible legacy of easy divorce and the dreadful effect this has had on the army of fatherless children whose life chance are thereby so diminished.

  • Richard Wingfield 7th Jul '13 - 11:00pm

    Lord Greaves, if you believe that Mark Yeates’ comments on registrars are “intolerant and unduly illiberal”, then so are the views of the National Panel for Registration (NPR) which represents registrars. The Chair of the NPR wrote to Maria Miller on the opt out just a few days ago. Her letter can be found here: http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2013-1149/scan.pdf

    She says:

    “First, in response to the Government’s Equal Marriage consultation in June 2012, the ten panel members each held a regional meeting with their local authorities; at which Equal Civil Marriage was debated. At none of these meetings, attended by both managers and registrars representing all of England and Wales, did anyone raise the issue fo wanting a conscience clause inserted into the Bill.

    Second, in June 2013 the NPR met in London where the issue of a conscience clause was specifically discussed. The NPR was unanimous that they did not call for, or support, a conscience clause for Registrars.

    Third, further engagement and regional meetings have subsequently taken place during June and July 2013, and the conscience clause was again specifically discussed. I can confirm that all regional meetings neither called for nor supported the insertion of a conscience clause for Registrars.

    The objection to a conscience clause is based on Registrars being local authority employees who are expected (and willing) to carry out all the functions that their role covers. Ona d aily basis, Registrars deal with many scenarious that for those with strong beliefs (religious or otherwise) would possibly not be able to carry out. Examples include registering the birth of a child from a same sex couple; undertaking marriages for previously divorced persons; or carrying out civil ceremonies and registrations.

    Registration Services and, in particular the Registrars, are passionate and proud about the services they deliver and the customers they work with. For the past 176 years, Registrars have been carrying out their duties and have never wanted a conscience clause, and do not see the need for one now. In the Registration Service we leave beliefs at home and delivery neutrally. The beliefs we bring to work are respect and tolerance and we would wish them to continue.”

    Shirley Williams, and others, are pushing for a conscience clause that Registrars have not called for and have explicitly and vocally opposed. If anything, she – and those others supporting the opt out – are being intolerant and unduly illiberal by forcing something on Registrars that they do not want.

  • Richard Wingfield: Thank you for casting a bit of sun light on this issue. Why it should be introduced is a mystery and is quite possibly an act of mischief making. Why Shirley Williams should support it is another mystery, though the RC church might be an element in the mystery.

  • “we are presently seeing the terrible legacy of easy divorce and the dreadful effect this has had on the army of fatherless children whose life chance are thereby so diminished.”

    I’m interested to see you expand on how children whose parents divorce are a) fatherless and b) suffering diminished life chances.

  • Martin Gentles 8th Jul '13 - 7:26am

    My suggestion is that we quietly ignore the Shirley Williams and John Roffeys. We are liberals. Equality of sexuality is a no brainer. Why are we even debating this?

  • William Jones 8th Jul '13 - 7:36am

    What a great advertisement, if we needed it, that the Lords need to be elected. One of our own going “rabid” and needs to be put out to grass.

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '13 - 9:24am

    @MatGB

    This survey seems to cover many aspects of fatherlessness. It does seem to support what I posted:

    http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/experiments.php

    It is interesting that Atticus Finch [from To kill a Mockingbird] is still rated the greatest fictional hero. This article by Tim Lott in the Guardian explored the issue of fatherless families – he concluded:

    Our culture treats men and boys as second-class citizens
    I can see why men are seen more as Homer Simpson than Atticus Finch, but it is a poor role model, especially for the growing number of boys in fatherless families

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/14/men-boys-second-class-citizens

    I think there is a lot in what he says – clearly the rise in feminism and the related laws does demote the role of men in our society and therefore allows them less influence on their children.

    On staying together: It might be that parents who stay together ‘for the sake of the children’ do have some adverse effects on the them – however, it is clearly a case of degree. Do you have a link?

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '13 - 9:37am

    @ Martin Gentles

    In my first post on this thread I asked:

    “As a non gay male, the only reason I considered marriage was for the procreation of children and to provide a legal framework for raising them into adulthood – in the hope that they would be prepared for living in an ever increasingly complex world.

    With the near certainty of birth control methods – this seems to be a popular attitude these days.

    Why is the gay community’s attitude to marriage so different?”

    I ask this because I am finding it difficult to understand, in practical terms, how a gay couple being married makes much difference to the individual’s lives – beyond what a civil partnership provides.

    A great deal of political time and effort has been absorbed by this issue at a time when the nation faces huge challenges. Unless there is a major difference – then it is difficult to justify this use of these resources at this time.

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '13 - 9:40am

    @Stewart

    I think the survey I posted in reply to MatGB also answers your point.

  • Andrew Emmerson 8th Jul '13 - 9:41am

    Never mind brutal hobbyhorses … Some lords (and Baroness’) have clearly jumped the shark.

  • Shirley is right that there is a great tradition of ‘difference-based’ accounts of equality; but defining difference in the law requires conformity to a norm. This approach – for me – almost inevitably leads to a less liberal approach to diversity. A more liberal approach requires being treated as ‘the same’ by the law, and taking into account all the vast array of differences between everyone (nothing in the amendment, for example, about transgender).

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '13 - 10:53am

    @ MatGB

    I hadn’t said that being poorer was not a factor, but, as the Civitas survey shows – just one factor. If you want a ‘job done’ then you will have to post up some reputable links disproving the Civitas figures.

    You might see my view that marriage is primarily about procreation and the rearing of children as off topic – but it seems to me to go to the heart of the matter, but, perhaps more importantly – can you answer the question I have posed a few times – but no one seems to want to answer:
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
    In my first post on this thread I asked:
    “As a non gay male, the only reason I considered marriage was for the procreation of children and to provide a legal framework for raising them into adulthood – in the hope that they would be prepared for living in an ever increasingly complex world.
    With the near certainty of birth control methods – this seems to be a popular attitude these days.
    Why is the gay community’s attitude to marriage so different?”
    I ask this because I am finding it difficult to understand, in practical terms, how a gay couple being married makes much difference to the individual’s lives – beyond what a civil partnership provides.
    A great deal of political time and effort has been absorbed by this issue at a time when the nation faces huge challenges. Unless there is a major difference – then it is difficult to justify this use of these resources at this time.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    This really does go to the heart of the matter – perhaps you can enlighten me.

  • The party *hasn’t* really moved on this since about 1975. It may have formally become policy but it’s all stuff that logically and morally flows from the positions on (as they were termed then) gay rights issues that the Liberals took in the 70s.

    We worked out back then that these were civil rights questions about people being equal before the law and it is somewhere between laughable, offensive and downright bizarre that they have ever been treated as ‘conscience vote’ matters by the parliamentary parties.

    It seems reasonable for people to have caught up in the best part of forty years.

  • Tony Greaves 8th Jul '13 - 1:36pm

    All I am arguing for is rather more tolerance. Some of the responses to my comment show just how intolerant some of the supporters of this legislation are.

    Whether people here like it or not, in parliament this is regarded as a conscience issue. Liberal Democrats have a free vote. If people do not like that, they should attack the party’s leadership and whips who make those decisions, not people who exercise their freedom of conscience (though to be fair the degree of support for the Bill on the LD benches in the Lords has been higher than for some quite heavily whipped votes!)

    I should comment that out in the country there are more than a few members of this party who think this legislation is nonsense or actually wrong – including more than a few Councillors and candidates. People who want to organise a witch-hunt may find they have not much of a party left after the burnings.

    The underlying truth is that there is a substantial difference of views on this issue between the generations – the older people are the more likely they are to oppose the Bill. Since it has not been something the party supports for very long, it is not surprising that this balance is reflected in the party.

    As for the way the owners of this site use it to promote themselves, people can make their own minds up. People have a perfect right to do such things on their websites, blogs etc but the problem is that this site is promoted as a place for the whole party. The underlying bias is evident.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 8th Jul '13 - 1:43pm

    “WIth seems reasonable for people to have caught up in the best part of forty years.”

    For goodness sake. 40 years ago we were still just out of the era when homosexual acts were illegal (at least between men) and participants risked being imprisoned. No-one even dreamed of single sex marriage, or if they did it was not discussed. I remember a time of discussion in the party much more recently when civil partnerships were fairly controversial but marriage regarded as completely a step too far, even to be seriously debated. It has come to the fore in less than five years.

    I can’t believe that people cannot see the astonishing pace at which opinions have changed, in the country generally as well as in our party. It has left many people rather surprised and some bewildered, and a bit of undestanding of this is in order.

    I have no formal religious adherence of beliefs but, again, I say that if people cannot see and respect that many people’s Liberalism is founded in their religious beliefs, they have no understanding of Liberal history or of the party today. It may be a lot less than it was but that aplies to religion’s role insociety generally.

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Wingfield 8th Jul '13 - 1:44pm

    Indeed, Jen. It was the 1979 manifesto which said that a Liberal government would be committed to “Removing all legal discrimination based on sexual orientation.” We were the first to call for the abolition of Section 28 and the first to call for civil partnerships. This is just another (obvious) step forward for the party.

    I am grateful that Shirley Williams was very measured and polite in her contribution to the debate on same-sex marriage. If only that could be said for all the other contributors, some of whom were downright offensive such as Jill “homosexuals are … very good at artistic things … very good at things like antiques” Knight. My issue is that Shirley’s argument ultimately boiled down to this (taken from her speech):

    “(…) why should there be any difference in the nomenclature? The distinction is perhaps best made by pointing out the very different roles, as has been done already by several speakers in this debate, of a marriage that is based on the outcome of procreation—the long-term maturing of children—and a relationship that is based on the huge, total and intimate relationship between two people who wish to live their lives together. I strongly urge that we find nomenclature that describes the real differences—equal differences, but differences nonetheless—between couples who are married according to the traditional method and couples who are married because they seek a life-lasting union under this Bill.”

    If the argument is that there should be different nomenclature for couples who are going to procreate and those who are not, then why is it just same-sex couples who are singled out and not couples who (i) don’t want children or (ii) cannot have children due to age or some other medical reason? And, in any event, what is the logic in making a distinction between (i) those opposite-sex couples who are going to have a child through natural procreation and (ii) those couples, whether-same sex or opposite sex, who are going to have a child through adoption, IVF, surrogacy or some other method? If Shirley were calling for an entirely new nomenclature for all couples who were not going to procreate (whether gay or straight), then there would at least be some consistency. But because she is instead arguing that same-sex couples alone be called something different, and not opposite-sex couples who will not be procreating, then there only conclusion must be that there is something about the sexual orientation itself that demands differentiation. How can a gay person not be offended by that?

  • Meral Hussein Ece 8th Jul '13 - 1:59pm

    I supported the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at Second Reading , and will support it again this week. As mentioned, we in the Lords have a free vote, and it is not whipped, and considered a conscience issue. There has been opposition from all sides of the House, and in fact the Lib Dem benches have been more united than the other parties in supporting this Bill. It is not ‘Shirley Willimans amendment,’ but a cross party amendment. I do not agree with the amendment, nor do I condemn those, mainly older members of the Lords, who oppose this Bill, prefering to show tolerance to views that I do not share. As one of a very small number of peers from a BME background, and an even smaller number from a Muslim background (5 women), I have been criticised from people from my own community/ faith, and even family members, for supporting this Bill. I explain that as a lifelong equalities campaigner, I am being consistent. So its disappointing that when I occasionally put forward my strongly held views on the appalling lack of diversity within the Liberal Democrats – a few women MPs, and no-one from a BME background – the worse record of any of the three main partys, and my now belief that only positive action will make a difference, I recieve a plethora of responses on how this is ‘illiberal’ What exactly is liberal about a Party, that is all white and male dominated? I supported Shirley Williams call for all women short lists, and now 12 years later, even more so. So, when it comes to equality, can we all be consistent, brave and radical, when we talk about ‘equality’ We currently do not represent, look like, or can hope to reflect Britain in the 21st Century.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 8th Jul '13 - 7:45pm

    @ Tony Greaves

    “If people do not like that, they should attack the party’s leadership and whips who make those decisions, not people who exercise their freedom of conscience”

    What?

    Because a vote is not whipped party members have no right to criticise how parliamentarians vote? So parliamentarians don’t have to take responsibility for their actions when a vote is whipped because they’re following the party line and they don’t have to take responsibility when it’s a free vote because the whips allowed a free vote?

    What an extraordinary assertion. Parliamentarians are responsible for how they vote, and if members think they are betraying liberal principles they have every right to say so.

  • Liberal Neil 8th Jul '13 - 9:04pm

    @Tony – your argument for tolerance would come across more sincerely if you weren’t so ready to attack people yourself.

    Stephen’s article was written in very temperate language, far more so than your first comment.

    I do understand the point you make that some people’s perspective is moulded by older attitudes from many years ago. But would you be so understanding if it was legislation about the equal rights of black people rather than equal rights for gay people?

    Shirley Williams is also one of my political heroes and I also find myself saddened by her stance on this issue, partly because it just seems to be so far from the principles she usually espouses.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jul '13 - 9:37pm

    I think Tony Greaves is overall being very reasonable and I am disappointed by the reaction towards people like him. If we can’t be nice to people who are voting for gay marriage but want more tolerance then we really have no hope at all.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jul '13 - 9:42pm

    I also resonate with his issue about LDV editors using the website for their personal “hobbyhorses”. Yes they are editors doing it for free and a little bit of hobbyhorsing is fine and natural, but sometimes when certain issues or view points are repeated over and over it can make others anxious that they are not representing the party as a whole.

  • Richard Wingfield 8th Jul '13 - 11:12pm

    Eddie Sammon, I cannot see anything written in response to Tony’s comments that could be considered rude, abusive or threatening. People, including me, have responded strongly and passionately because for many of us this is a hugely important issue. But none of us has been rude in our response at all. Robust debate is healthy and we should not feel that we have to tread on eggshells when discussing these matters. We are all adults and able to disagree with each other, sometimes vehemently, without there being any personal animosity.

    I, for one, would welcome any of our Parliamentarians – whether MP or peer – who wished to write an article explaining their opposition to same-sex marriage, why they feel justified in voting against policy voted for – and supported by – the overwhelming majority of our party, and how preventing same-sex couples is consistent with liberalism. None have done so. That is not the fault of those of us, including Stephen, who support same sex marriage, who see this as a huge achievement for our party, and a fantastic step forward for LGBT people and society as a whole.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Jul '13 - 12:07am

    Richard, I don’t want to post examples but I think some comments have been unfair and clearly do not agree with Tony Greaves’s call for more tolerance and respect to be shown towards the opponents of the bill.

    Anyone who wishes to be hostile towards nearly 50% of the voting population and the majority of other groups and constituencies in this country belongs in an equality pressure group rather than a political party seeking majority governance.

    I’m in favour of the bill, but we need to show more respect.

  • “All I am arguing for is rather more tolerance.”

    For more tolerance of prejudice against homosexuals and lesbians? On the basis that older people are more likely to be prejudiced – so we should just put up with it?

    Would Tony Greaves make similar arguments for “more tolerance” of prejudice against black people, or women, or Jews? I hope not. But what does he think the difference is? Does he think homosexuals and lesbians are less deserving of civil equality than other groups who have been discriminated against? Why should that be?

    His line seems to be “Of course, I’m all in favour of equality myself, BUT …” I must confess I don’t find it entirely convincing.

  • David White 9th Jul '13 - 1:34pm

    It brings shame upon both Baroness Williams and Baron Greaves that they have decided to support illiberal and homophobic fellow-peers. Worse still, both Williams and Greaves have brought disgrace upon MY political party.

    And don’t ever forget that, inter alia, it was Baroness Williams who brought us into extreme disrepute with her feeble attitudes about the imminent privatisation of the NHS!

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jul '13 - 12:51pm

    Stephen Tall

    One of the most prominent Lib Dem peers arguing that marriage Isn’t simply defined by the love shared by two people,

    The strongest argument made against gay marriage by its opponents was the one that said it would lead to the belief that marriage is just “defined by the love shared by two people” and therefore lose older ideas of long-term commitment that were not just about romantic love. What you don’t seem to realise, Stephen and others who use this line, that by using this line you are actually supporting the argument AGAINST gay marriage.

  • Matthew

    You seem rather confused. In arguing that “marriage Isn’t simply defined by the love shared by two people”, Shirley Williams is just echoing what you claim is the “strongest argument made against gay marriage”. Why should that be surprising? And what makes you think Stephen is supporting the argument against same-sex marriage, just because he summarised that argument (while making it clear he disagreed with it) at the end of his article?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jul '13 - 10:57am

    Chris

    Sure, Stephen is not consciously supporting the argument against gay marriage. I took from his article that he believed marriage IS solely defined by the love of two people, and was therefore shocked at Shirley Williams not accepting that.

    I am taking it that Stephen supposes it is so obvious that marriage is solely defined by the love of two people that he took it as just natural that everyone reading what he wrote would be so much of that viewpoint that they would be horrified to find a prominent Liberal Democrat who is not.

    Yet marriage was not historically defined as such, and it is precisely this redefinition in terms solely of “love between two people” that has been raised as a concern by opponents. So every time Stephen and anyone else writes a comment based on the assumption that marriage is solely defined in terms of love between two people it is more data in support of those who argue that marriage should not be defined in that way, and that insisting that a registered partnership between two people in a loving gay relationship has to be called “marriage” and nothing else encourages that mentality, and it is a harmful one, because it is the same mentality that leads to broken families on the grounds a man says to a woman “I don’t love you any more, therefore our marriage is over”.

    I’m sorry Chris, yes I know those of us who say these things, Shirley Williams included, come from a Catholic background, so you may easily dismiss us as religious nutters. When gay marriage became an issue, I intended to say nothing about it in public, accepting that the overtly religious arguments against it should be considered a private issue and should not be employed in public debate. However, there is nothing religious in this argument. I was struck by the sheer logic of it – opponents of gay marriage said “It will lead to X” and supporters of it assuming X, where X is something I do believe is bad (having experience of the damage caused by broken families and the idea that marriage is about romantic love, nothing else). Asking me to reject that logic because it is politically convenient to is like asking me to deny anything else which I can see through sheer logic is true simply because it is considered politically embarrassing to accept it.

  • David Le Poidevin 11th Jul '13 - 12:57pm

    I am delighted that a former Social Democrat and a former Liberal have presented a view that is held by many of us in the party, but is treated with a very illiberal approach by such people as Stephen Tall. I may have had a few small misgivings about both of them at times, but I admire their courage on standing out for truly Liberal tolerance.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 13th Jul '13 - 6:25pm

    Why is it wrong to challenge those who profess that their strong religious belief demands their intolerant of same sex relationships?

    Once upon a time in very unenlightened times people actually used a similar religious belief arguement to abuse people of colour, and they would certainly not have accepted marriage between people’s of differing ethnic or socalled races!

    Ultimately bigotry is bigotry and in reality most of us at times have been guilty of this very human of negative responses until we have overcome our irrational fears.

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