While welcoming the government’s commitment in allowing gay couples to marry in England and Wales from 2013, the Labour Party’s affiliated LGBT campaign group have criticised the decision of its leadership to grant Labour MPs a free vote on the plans.
However, on Tuesday, party leader Ed Miliband confirmed that he would not seek to whip his MPs over the issue, meaning anti-equal marriage Labour backbenchers such as Jim Dobbin, Joe Benton, Mary Glindon and Stephen Pound would be free to vote against the measure.
Labour’s shadow cabinet will still have to support the government’s proposals in a Commons vote, but in a statement, LGBT Labour said:
“We are disappointed that Labour MPs will be given a free vote on this issue. LGBT Labour firmly believes issues of equality are not matters of conscience but fundamental rights. We believe this position has the strong support of Labour members and activists who also share our disappointment.
“We hope and expect that Labour MPs will support equal marriage and continue Labour’s record of supporting LGBT rights. We are pleased therefore to see that the entire shadow cabinet have committed to voting and campaigning for equal marriage.”
On Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg signalled that his party’s MPs would also been given a free vote, having previously criticised David Cameron for granting Conservative MPs a conscience vote in May – at a time when the government’s official position was that it was only looking at reforming civil marriage laws and not those concerning religious establishments.
The change in position by both Labour and the Lib Dems has been attributed to the government’s decision to incorporate religious ceremonies in its equal marriage plans.
According to the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s website, 164 Labour MPs are likely to vote for equal marriage, with 8 against, 2 are neutral, and 83 are unknown.