Comment: The Conservative Party has come a long way on gay rights to legislate for equal marriage
Writing for PinkNews, Colm Howard-Lloyd, national policy director of LGBTory says the publication of the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill shows the Conservative Party is a champion of equality.
As a fresh-faced gay rights campaigner, just turned 17, I remember standing outside the Houses of Parliament in 1994 chanting and willing those inside to vote for an equal age of consent. I remember the mixed emotions of success at a victory of a lowered age of consent for gay people to 18, but a defeat of an equal age of consent. A defeat brought about by a majority of Conservative MPs supported by more than three dozen Labour MPs. During the debate, and particularly in the Lords we had to listen to retired colonels, Bishops and other self-appointed guardians of the country’s morals spit and froth as they pondered “the buggery of young boys”.
It’s therefore unsurprising that the media relish any spit and froth from a Tory backbencher on the subject of equal marriage as a sign that the party hasn’t modernised and that the Conservatives are going to hell in a UKIP-handbasket. UKIP in their desperation for members have expelled anyone supporting equal marriage from the party and setup their stall as the refuge for Tory nutters.
There really isn’t the split in the party many are trying to claim. David Cameron proudly told a receptive conference “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.” He assured us that he “support[s] gay marriage because he’s a Conservative.” The vast majority of Conservatives agree with him. There are groups writing furiously to MPs to tell them this is a distraction from the economy/the roads/insert your cause of choice, but wise MPs know that we legislate on dozens of things simultaneously. There are even those writing to constituency chairmen urging them to defect or de-select their MP.
One group has sent a copy of a book “Is There A Case For Same-Sex Marriage?” by R.S. Harris to every chairman. The book claims to be a “full balanced account of the argument”, but given that by page 12 it had already descended into a discussion on the robustness of the rectal lining I didn’t find much balance. Indeed I didn’t find much about love in the book either beyond the preposterous argument that allowing the marriage of two loving women will definitely lead to the legalisation of polygamy. The book was the same spit and froth, and buggery we’ve seen before.
Those opposing equality attempt to be more rational by citing the law as being able to force churches to marry same-sex couples against their wishes. The unique legal position of the Churches of England and the Church in Wales, whereby they have a duty in law to marry any person in their local parish church, regardless of their religious affiliation, would leave them open to legal challenge and this is why the government have put in place a specific protection. I believe any religious institution should have the right to refuse to marry anybody that doesn’t support their beliefs and aims. But the “lock” is reversible (yes, the Church of England CAN and SHOULD opt-in!), and given the vocal support of some in the Church I hope we won’t wait too long before a church wedding is possible.
Some are also quoting the European Court of Human Rights as the looming bogeyman waiting to take away religious freedoms. This again is a red herring. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge told the Lord’s Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2011 that Strasbourg doesn’t override national law:
“I myself think it is at least arguable that having taken account of the decision of the court in Strasbourg our courts are not bound by them.” He added that whilst judges should “give them [Strasbourg rulings] due weight in most cases” they would not and need not necessarily follow them.
I am proud that a Conservative government, reflecting a party so changed in my lifetime, committed in its election campaign to this equality and is leading on delivering it. Today’s First Reading of the legislation and the support of all of the major parties has made that all the more real. I am confident that in a matter of weeks I will be able to marry. I just need to find a husband.