In a comment piece for PinkNews.co.uk, Ben Howlett, the chairman of Conservative Future claims his party now eclipses Labour when it comes to LGBT equality.
In 2007 I attended my first Conservative Party Conference as a shy, straight teenager, not knowing anyone in the Conservative Party outside of north east Essex where I grew up. I was at that point quite inquisitive, for obvious reasons, about what the Conservative Party’s position was on LGBT issues. I remember having one or two conversations with members who introduced me to some of the gay agents, MPs and councillors who were not exactly vocal about their sexuality, nor that knowledgeable about the party’s position on LGBT issues.
As I entered the main hall of the Conservative Party Conference for my third and final time this week as the first openly gay national Conservative Future chairman in 2012, I found myself looking around at a wholly different party, one that can openly celebrate being on the side of the LGBT community.
Organisations such as LGBTory and predecessor groups have done a brilliant job internally within the party and externally to the wider public of showing that the party has changed on LGBT issues. For someone who has marched with friends at Prides across the UK, I am delighted with the record of this Conservative led government on LGBT issues.
This will be the government that introduces civil gay marriage by 2015. Contrary to the left and many Labour MPs that doubt the prime minister’s conviction in passing this Act of Parliament, I am pleased to see his reiteration that there will be no change to the timeframe set in the coalition agreement.
As Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, and Minister for Equalities, Maria Miller has set out not only her support for this timeframe, but also the case for why the change to the law is necessary. What baffles the electorate and hundreds of thousands of gay people across the UK is the audacity of those in the Labour Party that doubt the conviction of those in the Conservative Party over the issue of civil gay marriage. The former Labour minister and leading ‘progressive’ within the Labour Party, Ben Bradshaw, said in an interview earlier this year that civil gay marriage “isn’t a priority for the gay community, which already won equal rights”.
The question the electorate is asking is this, why aren’t Labour uniting with this government in supporting marriage equality as it goes through parliament? The clear answer is that they have not changed. Labour believe that they can pitch minority group against minority group as Ken Livingstone did in London as he tried to unseat Boris as mayor of London. It didn’t work for Ken, it certainly won’t work for Ed Miliband and his comrades in the Labour Party as they try to undermine this government’s hard work to introduce civil gay marriage.
Labour must support this government and members of the Conservative Party who believe in true equality – that is the deeply conservative principle of equality of opportunity. Conservative Future members believe that the state should not interfere in people’s lives as much as they have. They believe that if one person loves another, gay, straight, transsexual, it is not the responsibility of government to deny someone their right to love another and segregate that group into another unequal category.
While civil partnerships were a good step forward, this was another example of Labour segregating the population into those who have civil partnerships and those who had full marriage. This did not make Richard and Barry as equal as Richard and Carrie. Under this government’s proposals Richard and Barry will have their civil marriage recognised in the eyes of the law in the same way as Richard and Carrie. As a result of Ben Bradshaw’s comments, gay members of the Labour Party are joining Conservative Future and the Conservative Party because we are the true party of equality and opportunity.
Ben Howlett is chair of Conservative Future. Views expressed in this article are his own and not that of PinkNews.co.uk