Gay marriage vote is very simple: forget the politics, vote for what you believe in

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Nik Darlington 8.42am

There is a lot for Tories - or even just any sensible observer of politics - to be unhappy about over the Government’s same-sex marriage reforms.

No mention in either Coalition parties’ 2010 manifestos. No mention in the Coalition Agreement. Neither perceived nor existential agitation for it from homosexual people or otherwise. Manifesto commitments pertaining to marriage - such as recognising marriage in the tax system - that probably ought to take priority.

So any sensible observer of politics (and there are many insensible observers giving voice) can understand why grassroots Tories are protesting and writing literally thousands of emails and letters to MPs, why there is talk of deselections, and why scores of Tory MPs intend to vote against the Bill today.

It is, therefore, an upsetting and destabilising time. One old-timer I consider to be largely sensible about these things phoned me up yesterday to bemoan politicians spending so much time fussing over it when there are more important matters at stake, whatever the merits of the policy itself (they were in favour of it). This is partially unfair, given that the Government is so sweatily ram-rodding the issue through Parliament (just one bone of contention). Though sensible observers could be forgiven for thinking this is all MPs have been doing lately, given the corybantic manner in which the media are covering it.

Yet these difficulties notwithstanding, there remains a simple, unalterable fact that for me - and I’m sure for many others - makes voting down this proposal impossible. David Cameron maybe should not have chosen this moment to pose the question. Though now the question is posed, I could not sensibly oppose it. We cannot ignore it, or wish it would go away.

It is said that some MPs couldn’t really care much for the policy, but believe the Prime Minister to have been a clod for pushing it and shall vote against (or abstain) to spite him. There are many who genuinely and deeply believe the policy to be inherently wrong - whether out of religious belief or traditional social mores. I am comfortable with it according to my own Christian faith; yet in the same vein, I must respect others’ interpretation. It is a tricky one this, to put it mildly.

The Conservative party cannot gain from this, if ever that was indeed the leadership’s intention. Thus let us forget for now the party political ramifications, even if the media refuse to. 

It is a free vote. MPs should vote according to what they believe, not whether they will gain or lose personally from it, or how it makes their party look, or whether they think they should even be having to cast a vote. Above all, let us not in the heat of the moment, with passions high, make this a more difficult matter than it is.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Gay marriage is at the heart of the urgent need to separate Church and State

Jack Blackburn 6.00am

Church and State are talking at crossed purposes on gay marriage, but what goes unnoticed is that this confusion goes right to the heart of our nation’s constitution.

As far as the State is concerned, homosexual relationships should be treated coterminously with heterosexual relationships. By extension of this fact, gay marriage ought to be permitted and accepted.

However, from a theological perspective, this is contradictory and nonsensical. Marriage is a sacrament, a central pillar of the Christian faith, and defined as exclusively heterosexual.

Christians are entitled to that view. And in somewhere such as the United States, where Church and State are separate, they can agree to disagree in this fashion. But here in Britain, with an established Church, that is a luxury we cannot presently enjoy.

The Church of England is directly affected by what is spoken in Parliament and what Her Majesty the Queen - the Supreme Head of the Church - signs into law. There is no getting around that. The Queen cannot give her royal assent to a Bill legalising gay marriage without challenging a tenet of the Church. We have here a real dilemma. We must be honest about this, but of course something has got to give eventually.

It would be welcome to hear a dissenting Christian voice loud and clear - following the Prime Minister’s own statements on the subject - because the theological debate is not open and shut.

Indeed, to say that marriage is a union that can only exist between a man and a woman is lazy, unsubtle and vacuous. It does a disservice to what the institution should mean.

The explicit definition of marriage as exclusively heterosexual is derived from texts written more than two millennia ago by people living in a homophobic world that demanded the execution of homosexual men.

The modern Christian, called by Jesus to make love their first and only aim, should realise that the old ways are not beyond question. In fact, they are challenged by that stronger tenet of love.

The true essence of marriage is the formation of a loving union - if that is between people of the same gender or different genders, it ought not matter. The loving God would be more pleased by the gay couple who spend their entire lives together than the man of many marriages.

Nevertheless, this does not rest easily with the theological conclusions of many Christians across the country who, I hasten to add, are not homophobic by nature. These Christians will maintain that marriage is a sacrament, clearly defined, and the word cannot simply be borrowed by the State to fulfil its social aims.

The word and the institution are of central importance to Christian faith. This is the responsible view of Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, and the Church Commissioners. (The faux-amusing rhetoric of Peter Bone and insulting language of Cardinal O’Brien are contributions we could do without, and which do their side of the argument no good at all.)

This is yet another issue that indicates why the Church must begin to remove itself from State affairs. Neither Church nor State any longer benefit from their connection; rather, they suffer from it, finding not greater strength but deeper division.

In this instance, the Church is being held hostage to a legislature that is doing what it thinks is best for society. It has a democratic mandate to do so. Therein lies the problem for the Church today: it represents only one section of modern British society, for which Parliament must legislate, and yet the Church unduly influences, and is influenced by, that Parliament.

The need for separation is increasingly apparent and urgent. However, it cannot happen while the Queen is head of both. The dilemma shall continue unresolved.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA