Roscoe Hastings sums up the latest from the equal marriage debate…  

If you read my previous blog about gay marriage then you will know where I stand on the issue – I’m all for it. My hope is that the continued progression of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill through the Houses of Parliament will eventually end marriage inequality in the UK. But before we’re there, let’s sum up where we are at right now.

The Bill started its latest phase of the process, known as the Report stage, in the House of Commons on Monday 20 May. This was the first time that it was back on the floor of the house since it passed its second reading in the Committee stage on 5 February this year.

We saw two dramatic days of heated debate before the third reading of the Bill finally passed today with a 205 majority with 366 MPs voting in favour and 161 voting against. (You can find out if your MP was one of the 161 who voted against the third reading here.)

During the debate we heard loud arguments from both sides and opponents were, in my opinion, forthcoming in yet more ridiculous and outdated arguments that just showed a distinct lack of awareness about Britain today. Arguments from Sir Gerald Howarth MP included statements that the “aggressive homosexual community” is seeking equal marriage and that equal marriage is being “railroaded through Parliament”. Others such as David Burrowes MP claimed that the country is divided over equal marriage – I think he will find that 70% actually support it.

The biggest issues that had to be dealt with, and where the votes are particularly interesting, were around the amendments that were proposed in committee. One of the main amendments proposed was to allow Registrars to opt-out of performing gay weddings or civil partnerships. This was an attempt to prevent civil servants, whose job it is to serve the public, the option to deny service based entirely on their sexuality. An argument put forward by Nick Herbert MP sums this up perfectly:

“If it’s wrong for a Registrar to turn someone away on the grounds that they’re black, why is it OK to turn away a gay person,” he asked.

Luckily this amendment was defeated 340-150.

The other amendment that was put forward by critics of the gay marriage bill advocated a consultation into heterosexual civil partnerships that they claimed was motivated by equality concerns. While I personally think that civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couples, I do not think that it should be at the expense of passing the current Equal Marriage Bill. Many, including myself, referred to this as a wrecking amendment because it would have forced fresh consultation and potentially have delayed the bill by two years, as well as having a knock-on effect that might add £4bn on to pension schemes’ liabilities. Thankfully the amendment was defeated 375-70.

An alternative amendment that was proposed by Labour, calling for a separate consultation on the future of civil partnerships, was passed 391-57.

There were even some slightly more wacky proposals that were proposed. The strangest being from Greg Mulholland MP who called for the abolition of marriage altogether (say what!?). It seemed like an odd one to consider getting rid of it generally; especially as we hadn’t even passed equal marriage – I’m sure the church would have something to say about that.

Additionally there were some really important Trans* amendments that were proposed to restore the marriages of Trans* people that dissolve when one person transitions. Unfortunately there was not enough time left of the debate and these amendments were withdrawn at the request of the Equalities Minister, Helen Grant MP.

Maria Miller MP, Minister responsible for Women and Equality, said that there had been “open and constructive discussions with all involved” and that “in the years ahead we will be proud that we made equal marriage happen”.

“All MPs who support this bill should be proud to be on the right side of history,” said Yvette Cooper MP, Maria Miller’s opposite number.

She also appeared to suggest that she would happily join in a good Eurovision style sing-a-long with Maria Miller if the Bill were to be passed into law – similarly to the reaction of the New Zealand Parliament that did so recently (see video below). She also stated that her own marriage to the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, couldn’t possibly be undermined by the Equal marriage Bill, unless someone else planned to marry the Shadow Chancellor.

Stuart Andrew MP gave a very passionate speech in support of the Bill.

“I joined the Conservative Party because I believe in freedom of choice and living your life as you wish,” he said before going on to talk about being a victim of hate crime:

“I am not an aggressive man but I’ve had the misfortune of facing aggression… Each small step for equality feels like a huge leap forward”.

While the discussions were going on in the House of Commons, another debate was raging in the press, sparked by Lord Tebbit’s comments to the Big Issue and it was further reported widely in an article for the Guardian. The controversial former Conservative Chairman said that the Bill could lead to a lesbian Queen giving birth to an heir via artificial insemination. Potentially more controversial were his comments that he could marry his son to avoid paying inheritance tax.

The comments from Lord Tebbit signal the potential rough ride that the Bill will receive through the House of Lords when it is debated later in June. To me it is strange to think that these are a logical arguments to people but hey, we’ll see.

It’s hard to guess how long the Bill will take but I would expect it to be through the Lords by September and then back to the Commons. As for when it will receive Royal Assent and become law, I would predict the New Year. You can track the progress of the Bill via the Parliament website here.

As a final comment I’ll say  that throughout this debate I have that thought that everyone, regardless of your political colours, should look back on something that, surprisingly, David Cameron said a few years ago:

“There is something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and family in front of the world, what you are really doing really means something brave and important. You are publicly saying: it’s not about “me, me, me,” anymore. It’s about “we”: together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters. And by the way, it means something whether you are a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man.”

I find myself very rarely agreeing with Mr Cameron’s words, but I cannot disagree with these. I am not a second class citizen and shouldn’t be treated like one. The fight is not yet over!

 

Fast Facts – Key amendments and the results

Clause Number

Basic proposal

Result

Clause 1 Would have allowed teachers to teach opinion and not fact e.g. creationism WITHDRAWN
Clause 3 To exempt Registrar’s from holding gay weddings and civil partnerships REJECTED 340-150
Clause 6 Unnecessary amend to the Equality Act 2010 making holding a belief against equal marriage a protected characteristic REJECTED 399-148
Clause 8 Change the definition of ‘compulsion’ REJECTED 321-163
Clauses 10 & 11 Wrecking amendments to extend civil partnerships REJECTED 375-70
Clause 16 Future of civil partnerships consultation PASSED 391-57

Text: Roscoe Hastings @RJ_Hastings

photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc