This article is from the June 2012 issue of Total Politics
Jane Ellison MP says YES
Like many people, I suspect, I refer to my gay friends who are in civil partnerships as “married”, partly because it’s less of a mouthful than “civilly partnered” (or a variant thereof), but mainly because it sums up their relationship: loving, committed and stable. So if two gay people want to get married, the state should let them.
In 2005, when civil partnerships were introduced, the furore that preceded the new law was in complete contrast to what happened – or didn’t happen – afterwards. Most people in Britain just shrugged their shoulders and went back to studying the snaps of Elton and David’s nuptial celebrations. No one else lost any rights, and some people gained them (including the right to be nagged by one’s parents about settling down, as a gay friend remarked after Christmas that year).
That’s the basis of my support for these proposals: no one is losing any rights and some are gaining the right to do something that will bring joy to those who choose to exercise it – and their families. Yes, gay people have families, so please don’t think ‘family values’ only apply to straight people.
Neither will straight people of faith lose by it, as religious marriage is not included in these proposals. Religious institutions are, correctly, going to retain their right to decide their own stance. People will say it’s the ‘thin end of the wedge’, as some faith groups will want to embrace religious gay marriage, but those groups must argue it out among themselves if that moment comes, just as traditionalists and modernisers have throughout history.
But the state should assert the rights of people in Britain, gay or straight, men or women, to be treated equally and well. Too often we make a lazy assumption that equal and decent treatment is guaranteed in modern Britain. It isn’t. I was at an evangelical Christian event recently, where a young firebrand preacher stirred up the passions of his audience by declaiming that they must “retake London for the Lord”, referring to various but unspecified “abominations”. I had my suspicions that the ‘retaken’ London wouldn’t be my kind of city. However, live and let live. If that’s what people in that church believe, I respect their freedom to do so – but we should not kid ourselves that the equal rights of gay people do not need to be regularly restated. Gay civil marriage will allow for the most joyful of public restatements.
In my letters to concerned constituents, I’ve made the point that in the two years since I was elected to Parliament the worst social problems I’ve seen have resulted from families breaking apart in rancour, not coming together in love. Single parents struggling with children on their own, grandparents exhausted from trying to hold families together, fathers desperate to maintain contact with kids who’ve been moved miles away: these make our society an unhappier place and blight the life chances of children.
I agree, however, with one point that’s sometimes made on the other side of this particular debate, that our main focus in Parliament should be on issues that affect everyone, straight or gay. But there’s room in the legislative programme for other measures, especially those that make our country a nicer place to live for our citizens. These proposals are motivated not by a desire to undermine society, but to strengthen it, and to strengthen the ties that bind us, allowing those who wish to commit to each other to do so.
Last month, one young man turned a gun on another in the middle of the afternoon in a busy park in my constituency, with mothers and children looking on, in an apparently gang-related incident. That threatens our society, not two people of the same sex, who love each other, saying, ‘I do’.
Let’s get on and legalise civil gay marriage, but also redouble our efforts to tackle the problems that worry all decent people, whatever their sexuality, who care about our country’s future.
Jane Ellison is the Conservative MP for Battersea
Peter Bone says NO
The simple answer is no: there is absolutely no democratic mandate for redefining marriage. To suggest that two people of the same sex can be married is like saying an apple is an orange. It is a palpable nonsense – in fact, it’s totally nuts.
Having read and re-read the Conservative Party manifesto for 2010, I can say that there was not one single mention of this policy. Out of curiosity, I did the same with the Liberal Democrat manifesto, and to my amazement there was not even a single use of the word “marriage” throughout the whole of the manifesto. They do, however, use the word “family”, which they describe as “mum and dad and children”.
Nevertheless, I’m acutely aware that we have neither a Conservative government nor a Liberal Democrat government. We have, instead, a coalition government, and so I decided to read through the coalition programme for government. Once again, there was not a single mention of redefining marriage.
For more than 2,000 years, marriage has been between a man and a woman. This definition also comes from a religious context, in which the union of a man and a woman is in front of God. And, indeed, the dictionary definition states that marriage is: “The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.”
The prime minister has not consulted the country, the party, or his fellow Conservative members of Parliament before trying to change an institution that has been accepted and supported for more than 2,000 years. There is a huge democratic deficit in the government’s action to redefine marriage; without any party even having hinted at it in their manifesto, it is arrogant and unacceptable.
The PM’s position previously had been that civil partnerships give equal legal rights to gay couples, and that he was opposed to gay marriage. That seems eminently sensible, so why the change of heart?
Opinion polls suggest that the public believes the change has come about for party political reasons. They strongly infer that the change is being made to make the Conservative Party look modern and progressive, not because the PM and government believe in the principle of gay marriage. Should a cherished institution be changed just so that the Tory Party will look modern?
The government’s position seems to be that you can have two types of marriages: a religious marriage and a civil marriage. The religious marriage would be for the reactionaries and the dinosaurs who want to live in the past, while a civil marriage, whether it is between a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, would be modern, secular and progressive. If you take a step back for a moment, you can see how preposterous the government’s position is: when has anyone introduced his wife as his ‘religious wife’ or his ‘civil wife’?
The other argument the government runs is that churches would not be forced to conduct gay marriages. This is deliberately misleading. There can be no doubt that if gay marriage were legalised, within a few months there would be a case before the European Court of Human Rights demanding that a gay couple be allowed to get married in the Anglican Church. Does anyone believe that the European Court would not rule in favour of such a claim?
Another key aspect of this debate, on which David Cameron has been silent, is whether the government is going to force this measure through Parliament on a whipped vote, or whether there will be a genuine free vote. Matters of moral concern have always in the past been treated by Parliament as free votes, where parliamentary members could vote and campaign according to their conscience. I know that there are many ministers and Conservative MPs who want to speak out and vote against this ill-thought-out and inadvisable measure. Why has Cameron failed to authorise a free vote?
The prime minister is right on so many issues, but on this one he is out of touch with the British people. And he is plain wrong.
Peter Bone is the Conservative MP for Wellingborough