Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, spoke in the House of Commons defending the same-sex marriage bill which will be voted on later today.
Ms James, who in 2010 became the first Conservative lesbian in Parliament, responded to MPs who opposed the bill by arguing that equality did not mean getting rid of differences: “We are different, and we should celebrate differences. I agree with that, we should celebrate cultural and other differences, but having been different for most of my life I can assure you being treated equal would be very welcome indeed.”
She said, “I am indebted to the Prime Minister, not just for this bill, but also for the changes that he has brought about within my party, which has lead to my own election and that of many others and has changed the face of the Parliamentary party. But I do feel that as a result of this debate, not just today but over the last six months, we may have gone two steps forward but I fear we have also gone one step backward and the modernisation of the Conservative Party is not yet complete.”
She added that the Conservatives “still have some way to go” and cautioned that the Party should be wary of “setting ourselves up like the Republican Party, who lost an election last year that they could have won, were it not for their socially conservative agenda.”
Ms James said that the debate leading up to the vote had been problematic as some pressure groups and churches had used tactics, saying they “should have known better”:
“I feel that over the last 6 months a certain distress about the way this debate has been managed, and the pressure that has been put on so many of my colleagues from pressure groups and churches who, in my view, should have known better in the tactics they have deployed,” she said.
Asked by Labour MP Madeleine Moon if she was including the Coalition for Marriage, who had emailed MPs threatening to remind their friends, families and constituents if they voted for the bill in future elections, in that statement, Ms James conceded.
She said: “The Coalition for Marriage, and some of the churches, have deliberately and consistently misinterpreted the government’s intentions by pretending that we were forcing churches to marry same-sex couples. That was never the intention of this government, I and my colleagues would never have supported it had it been so.”
She referred to the 2010 European Court of Human Rights case, Schalk and Kopf, which resulted in the ruling that governments were not obliged to guarantee church marriages for gay couples, and derided the Church of England for waiting so long to admit that it was “not realistic or likely that churches would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings,” saying it had lead to misunderstandings in her constituency.
She finished by saying: “One last point that hasn’t been raised, and that is that gay people, of course, have always been allowed to marry, as long as they choose someone of the opposite sex. This has been the case in politics, and in Hollywood, for reasons that are well known.
“Many gay people today appreciate the civil partnerships but do want more, do want the status of marriage, and I’m particularly thinking of the younger gay people who didn’t have to grow up in the environment that some of us had to grow up in, and I support their right to declare their love in a state of marriage, and I can assure honourable members that this will not undermine traditional marriage.”