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Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Baroness Warsi has defended her decision to abstain in this summer’s House of Lords vote on the same-sex marriage act for England and Wales, adding that she is “still on a journey” when it comes to issues of gay equality.

Baroness Warsi, who is the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for human rights and Minister for Faith and Communities, addressed criticism of her LGBT record during a keynote speech this week for Human Rights Day in central London.

Speaking at the BNP Paribas event in support for the Kaleidoscope Trust, the former co-chairman of the Conservative Party began by apologising for a controversial incident in 2005, when she unsuccessfully stood as the MP for Dewsbury. At the time she had issued leaflets which used homophobic language.

Her leaflets claimed children were being “propositioned” for gay relationships.

In her Human Rights Day speech she also admitted that the Conservative Party had been on the “wrong side of history” for previously opposing the extension of LGBT rights.

Baroness Warsi began her speech by saying: “There are those who said that I should not come here tonight. There are those who said that, having been invited, I would not come here tonight, but I did come, and I wanted to come, and it was the right thing to do, because I wanted to first of all put on record what I have said on many occasions and that is that my leaflet in 2005 and my party’s stance in the past was wrong. We were late in coming to this agenda and we were on the wrong side of history.”

In July, Baroness Wars refused to support the government’s same-sex marriage act for England and Wales at second reading in the House of Lords.

Baroness Warsi told the Mail: “I have a number of ongoing concerns which have been raised by faith communities and others.

“I am in discussion with colleagues about them. At this stage, I felt that I could not vote for the bill and so I abstained.”

However, Baroness Warsi suggested in January that she was inclined to support the legislation.

She told the Daily Politics: “Providing I can get the legal safeguards, which I have been speaking to (Culture Secretary) Maria Miller about, and providing the faith communities are on the right page, and all of that, I will be voting for gay marriage.”

When asked by PinkNews.co.uk why she had abstained in a question and answer session after her speech, Baroness Warsi replied: “I was clear in terms of where my position was on equal marriage. I felt that there were concerns that I had about how faith communities and the right of faith communities to have their beliefs protected. Without kind of undoing the whole debate again, there were a number of exchanges between myself and various other government departments.

“I had reservations about what would be considered to be a… in the same way as the established Church of England… [you have] the head of the established Church and there’s a proper structure [but] there are many religions who don’t have those structures, there are many many religions where you wouldn’t be able to find an authorising body, there are many religious institutions to which you have community centres attached which are part of the religious institution but actually can also be standalone centres. So there were lots of technical issues… I don’t want to reopen the debate you know this is on record and I need to be incredibly careful in terms of what I do say in terms of reopening the debate, but in the end I felt that I was not in a position where I could be satisfied to be able to vote for the bill.

“Now in terms of my faith position and in terms of the position of many many faith communities I was encouraged to vote against the bill. And in those circumstances I felt that as an unelected member of Parliament who doesn’t have a voter mandate, who was very clearly looking at what the country was saying in terms of where the country stood, and what the will of the House of Commons was, it would have been wrong for me to have voted against it, and in those circumstances I took a decision to abstain.”

When asked for her current view on same-sex marriage by a member of the audience, Baroness Warsi replied: “Look first of all I think it would be… I could give you an answer which I think would keep the crowd happy – that would be the wrong answer to give you. I could give you an answer which I think would make PinkNews write a nice story about me”, before jokingly adding: “although PinkNews is going to write a nice story about me anyway, so that would be the wrong answer to give you – but I am going to give you the answer which is honest and that is that I’m still on a journey… and whether you like it or you don’t like it, whether it is acceptable or it is not acceptable, that is the most honest view that I can give you.”

Coincidentally, Baroness Warsi’s speech took place on the day that the government announced the date of when the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales would be able to take place. 

Referring to the announcement, Baroness Warsi said: “I am very very clear in my view. Parliament has spoken, the law has changed, on the 29th March, a day after my birthday; send me a nice birthday card if you want… 29th March we will have the first gay marriage in this country. And I absolutely feel that as a parliamentarian, as a responsible citizen in this country, I go along and support that.”

BNP Paribas this autumn sponsored the PinkNews Awards.
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