Nik Darlington 10.32am
The Prime Minister is right to say that society is made stronger by people’s commitment to each other. It should matter little whether those people are husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife (admittedly, the same-sex marriage lexicon needs some work).
I was uncertain about the logic or need for the Government’s opening up the debate earlier this year. Few people were insisting on it, fewer still would place it highly on a list of public policy priorities in the midst of economic pain.
Yet now that the question has been put - i.e. should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? - there is no conceivable way that I could disagree, as a Christian and a citizen (the two aren’t incompatible, mind).
Several Conservative MPs cavil at the thought. One has been quoted as saying the policy would unnecessarily split the party. Considering this caucus consists of many who persist in splitting the party over other issues, not least the European Union, that’s a bit rich.
In a cogent and moving article today in the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie writes:
"Every Tory MP needs to think about how they want their vote on same-sex marriage to be remembered. Young people think homosexuality is as natural as ginger hair, skin colour or left-handedness. Tory MPs should think about the day that their children and grandchildren ask how they voted."
It’s been a while now since I was a schoolboy so maybe the ‘gay’ taunts that we would all chuck about are relics of the past. That aside, Montgomerie’s point is apt, however uncomfortably direct for some.
Many conservationist Tories (and non-political conservationists for that matter) will quite rightly insist on our not putting that Tesco megastore there, or that new ring road here, for the sake of future generations. As will environmentalists proclaim the precautionary principle.
So however guilt-inducing Montgomerie’s call to arms might be, the teleological line of argument is correct. There is no longer a convincing case (was there ever really?) for civil society to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to marry.
That this is a ‘civil’ matter is fundamental. Part of me had hoped that following the public consultation, the Government would hold firm on its ban on religious groups offering to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. Now it seems that they will be allowed to, should they so choose (the Quakers and some Jewish synaogogues have indicated they will). My fear is this will open up legal problems for the churches - such as the Church of England - that do not opt in. The Government, however, seems sure of its legal position and we should hope this is indeed the case.
Opponents within and without the Conservative party claim the Government has no mandate for the policy. Taking 2010 election manifestos into account, those opponents have a point. Nonetheless, the forming of a coalition has oft muddied those waters already and shall continue to do so for the duration of this Parliament.
Moreover, while opinion polling is nebulous (depends on how you ask the question), there does appear to be a broad acceptance of the policy in the country. This after one of the most extensive and lengthy public consultation processes in history (something many opponents that I’ve come across have for some reason remained unaware of).
Above all, if Members of Parliament are not our democratic representatives, what are they? Put the matter to a free vote and, as Sir John Major said over the weekend (£), “the Labour party will vote for it, the Liberals will vote for it, huge numbers of Tories will vote for it.”
You can conceivably wonder why the question was put at this point in time. Yet now it’s been asked, why on Earth not?
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