In an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk, the Conservative MP for Reigate and former Prisons and Youth Justice minister, Crispin Blunt, says David Cameron has shown “fantastic leadership” on equal marriage. The MP also comments on today’s start of the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, and Philip Hammond’s recent criticism of the measure.
Last Thursday on BBC1’s Question Time, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “There was no huge demand,” for same-sex marriage and that “we didn’t need to spend a lot of parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this.”
PinkNews.co.uk spoke exclusively to one of Mr Hammond’s fellow Tory MPs in Surrey, Crispin Blunt, at Friday’s Kaleidoscope Trust lecture in honour of Polish trans MP Anna Grodzka.
Asked if he was disappointed by the Defence Secretary’s comments, Mr Blunt told PinkNews.co.uk: “Philip’s views are well known as is the fact that there is a level of concern and discomfort with the issue, it’s there in the community, it’s perfectly proper for him to represent it and he acknowledged that actually his position was a minority position, but minority views need representing in Parliament along with majority ones.”
Asked if David Cameron was now reluctant to talk about same-sex marriage because of the turbulent impact it’s had on the Conservative Party, Mr Blunt said to PinkNews.co.uk: “I think the country knows exactly where [David Cameron] stands on this – the Conservative Party certainly knows exactly where he stands on it… and it’s cost him a certain amount of support with parts of the party who are unhappy with this.
“I sincerely hope that the LGBT community – and I think they do actually understand just exactly what his commitment is to it – but there is a limit for him to go on provoking elements of his own party who are unhappy with this just for the hell of it.
“He’s made his point, everyone knows the fire he’s going through with some of his own colleagues in order to deliver this and I hope people are going to be appropriately grateful for the fantastic leadership that he’s shown on this.”
In terms of the current opposition to the measure, Mr Blunt added: “Once this is done, it’s finished, it’s over and everyone will wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.”
Mr Blunt, who recorded a message of support for the Out4Marriage campaign last year, revealed that the majority of letters he had received from his constituents on same-sex marriage were negative, with most coming via anti-equality Christian lobbying groups.
“There’s been a fairly organised lobby by the churches,” the MP said to PinkNews.co.uk. “But the ones that are in favour tend to be personally written by an individual and are not part of an organised campaign”.
Mr Blunt added: “All the churches have got together and encouraged their parishioners to write to their MPs, which they have done, but it doesn’t represent a majority view, I’m convinced that the majority view in my constituency is the one I will be voting for.”
Asked why same-sex marriage had become such a divisive issue for the Conservative Party, Mr Blunt said: “Well you have got to remember where the Conservative membership is drawn from – it tends to be older and more socially conservative and from a more socially conservative age than the population as a whole – so the fact that a number of Conservatives find this difficult should not be surprising.”
Mr Blunt continued: “The lesson I would take from my own experiences is actually just how astonishingly tolerant the Conservative Party is. We now have more out gay MPs than all of the other parties put together, now we couldn’t be in that position if we weren’t getting support from our own constituency associations.”
Opposing equal marriage “is not a generalised position of the Conservative membership”, Mr Blunt said to PinkNews.co.uk. “The evidence is in the other direction.”
The MP also believes Tory discontent on the subject has become a “lightening conductor for other unhappiness about the direction of policy of a coalition government”, he added: “If you have a Liberal-Conservative coalition built around trying to rescue the economy, strangely enough the common ground is both [being] economically liberal and socially liberal, and that’s where we come together.
“David Cameron is very much in that place and he’s very comfortable with advancing a socially liberal agenda, which of course finds favour with half the Parliamentary Conservative Party who voted for same-sex marriage at second reading, and of course the vast majority of our coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
When asked why other countries, such as France and New Zealand, had managed to legalise the measure at a quicker pace, Mr Blunt told PinkNews.co.uk: “They’re not dealing with the complications of an established Church. The position of the [Church of England’s] clerics as automatic registers of the state makes the whole legal drafting exercise very much more complicated in the UK than it will be in other countries.”
Last Thursday, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport announced a proposed amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, stipulating a review of civil partnership legislation exactly five years from the point when the same-sex marriage bill comes into law.
Giving his reaction to the announcement, Mr Blunt said to PinkNews.co.uk: “I can understand why…It’s one way of making clear that there remains an equality issue to be addressed if the bill goes through as it is now.”
“All of the issues will come back to the main House of Commons today and Tuesday, and that’s when the key decisions on amending the bill will be taken. I expect that there will be a majority in the House of Commons to deliver equality now rather than later.
“There are two ways of doing it”, the MP said to PinkNews.co.uk. “You either close down civil partnerships and just have civil marriage and religious marriage”…“The other way of doing it is to open up civil partnerships to heterosexuals and that looks to be the majority position.”
When asked if civil partnerships should go, Mr Blunt replied: “My personal preference is simply to have civil marriage and religious marriage – and if you were licensed to carry out a religious marriage you are also carrying out a civil marriage as well – but you would be protected from being forced to carry out a same-sex marriage”.
The MP added: “I think you would then make clear that a partnership between people is marriage and the word ‘marriage’ belongs to everybody.”
Referring to backbench plans to open up civil partnerships as part of an amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Mr Blunt said to PinkNews.co.uk: “If you were going to have what I would call a semi-marriage – [or call it] civil partnerships – as long as that’s open to everybody that is also acceptable – for me it’s not preferable but it is wholly acceptable and I will probably be voting for it.”
When asked if potentially abolishing civil partnerships in favour of same-sex marriage risked causing offence to couples who had already undertaken them – and had no intentions of converting them into marriages, Mr Blunt told PinkNews.co.uk: “The issue is then a debate about the word ‘partnership’ and ‘marriage’ because legally there is going to be very little difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage – so why don’t we just make clear that in the law, under the state, [if] you are married under the eyes of the state then it comes with all of the legal obligations that everyone understands.”
Mr Blunt continued: “If you then just have a slightly downgraded word which says ‘partnership’, but with the same legal obligations then we are kind of dancing on the head of a pin, but I suspect that is where we will end up.”
It is expected on Tuesday the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will pass its third reading by MPs in the Commons, at which point it will then move to the House of Lords for further scrutiny and debate.
“I think the House of Lords is in a different place to how it was when there was all the trouble over equalisation of the age of consent back in the late 1990s,” Mr Blunt said to PinkNews.co.uk. “So I would be surprised if the bill runs into terminal trouble in the House of Lords, there will be some interesting debates, I think there is going to be an attempt to have a vote on second reading, which I understand is very unusual… but hopefully if that does happen that will reveal that the House of Lords has rather changed as an institution.”