While receiving evidence as he sat on the Public Bill Committee of the House of Commons, which is scrutinising the government’s same-sex marriage bill, Tory MP David Burrows accused PinkNews of “fomenting hostility” against the opponents of equal marriage.
The committee was made up of MPs who both have spoken against and in favour of LGBT equality.
Sitting on the committee, Mr Burrowes, an equal marriage opponent who represents Enfield Southgate in north London, questioned PinkNews and Out4Marriage founder, Benjamin Cohen, who was giving evidence, on what the MP called “abuse” from PinkNews readers against those opposed to equal marriage.
He asked: “In terms of freedom, in terms of PinkNews, do you think your forum should be free to allow for the fomenting of hostility, hatred and accusations of homophobia for people like me, who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and the distinct value of it.
“So in terms of people like me, with my [anti-equal marriage] view… On PinkNews for example, there has been a fomenting of hostility and hatred and abuse.”
Benjamin Cohen responded: “People are entitled to respond to what an MP says in their own way, but I don’t think that’s what we’re encouraging.”
Mr Burrowes then admitted: “I wouldn’t say you are,” but went on to question: “So how do we protect the freedom of conscience?”
Mr Cohen responded to say that there was no obligation for everyone to agree with equal marriage as a result of the bill.
He said: “I can’t see anything in the bill which says that anyone would have to agree to people having same-sex marriage. People talk a lot about marriage being redefined – it’s not redefining marriages that already exist. If I got married as a result of this bill, it doesn’t actually affect anyone else, other than other same-sex couples.
“There is still freedom, and I think that people have absolute liberty to disagree with this, and to have their own views on homosexuality or anything else, because we live in a tolerant, liberal society, where people can have different views.”
Mr Burrowes said: “You can distinguish between peoples’ views in relation to homosexuality and peoples’ views in relation to marriage? In terms of someone’s views in relation to marriage upholding a traditional view of marriage may well not mean that they are homophobic but they have views against homosexuality. You accept that there are distinctions?”
Mr Cohen replied: “I do not understand how one can say ‘I am not homophobic, I have nothing against homosexuals, but they can’t get married’, because it really means ‘well I like them, they can do whatever they want, but they can’t have the same rights that I have’
“Jewish people, and black people used to have less rights, all sorts of people used to have less rights because of who they were, and for things they couldn’t help. To try and argue that I am not homophobic but I don’t believe you should be able to have the right to do something, I can’t get that.”
Before moving on with another question, Mr Burrowes asked: “So you don’t mean to say I am homophobic”, to which Mr Cohen responded: “I’m not saying you are”.