Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Tory MPs express hostility to "gay marriage"

I'm really not one for watching Conservative Party Conferences. But there is one thing I remember from David Cameron's speech to his party's faithful last year - and that was his wife, Samantha, offering evidently heartfelt applause when he insisted that "backing gay marriage is a very Conservative thing to do". Perhaps, I imagined naively, a corner has been turned; maybe the historic Tory hostility towards LGBT rights has finally been put to sleep.

It seems, however, that some of Cameron's MPs are significantly less enthusiastic than his wife on such matters. With the government championing an end the ban on same-sex civil marriage, it has been reported that over 100 Conservative MPs are set to revolt. The Independent quotes David Burrowes MP (who receives interns from far-right Christian "charity" CARE and is the founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship), who believes that "there is strong opposition to gay marriage across the Conservative Party spectrum... It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation. Gay marriage is a debate we don't need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about." Burrowes added: "It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that."

He insisted he was "cautiously optimistic" that the rebels would defeat the government.

Unfortunately, what Borrowes and his Tory rebel friends are giving us is not, in fact, reasoned debate, but simple prejudice. Whether the "strong opposition" he refers to is more real than imagined I don't know, although I suspect there is a certain amount of wishful thinking on his part. I can't imagine that a section of Tory backbenchers, however large - and even with the collective support of the mighty Democratic Unionist Party - has any realistic chance of defeating the proposals which are sure to be supported by Labour. As for "opening up a minefield about freedom, religion and equality" - that's just what Burrowes and his ilk will do, while simultaneously undermining the Prime Minister's attempts to modernise the Conservative Party and reinforcing the perception that the Tories are, socially speaking, a less than progressive bunch of intolerant bigots.

These Tory MPs might see the argument as about "gay marriage" but that is disingenuous. There is no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage is marriage is marriage is marriage. Marriages are not gay, bisexual or straight. They are expressions of love between two people. At the heart of the matter is not a pseudo-philosophical debate about the nature of marriage but an altogether more pertinent question about social equality.

I can only imagine what Ruth Davidson makes of this.

In Scotland, we've experienced these quasi-arguments before. No-one is convinced by them. In recent months the Roman Catholic Church has taken every opportunity possible to portray itself as the very epitome of reaction and intolerance, demonstrating its irrelevance to modern Scottish society in the process. The Tories should take note, and perhaps take a leaf out of the Church of Scotland's book: at least the Kirk realises there are times when nothing is often a very sensible thing to do, and almost always a very sensible thing to say.

I can only speculate at the potential motives of these Tory rebels. It was sufficiently embarrassing that over 80 rebelled over Europe, but Euroskeptic rebellions are part and parcel of life as a Conservative backbencher. It's what they live for and, to a point, what some of their voters identify with. Marriage equality is another issue and I suspect that the determination to rebel stems from increasing frustration at the role of Lib Dems, coupled with Cameron's "liberalising" agenda. They see "their" party being taken from them, the attitudes they held so dear being challenged, their black-and-white worlds of social normality being irrevocably shattered as ignorance and intolerance are replaced with acceptance and equality. I pity them; to be so insecure about their own "moral certainties" must be a hugely painful experience. To be deluded beyond measure about their political relevance while lacking any insight into their pathologically flawed collective condition is an even worse situation that will only lend itself to repeated frustration.

Such a rebellion is not to be feared. There is no doubt that it will cause a great deal of embarrassment for Mr Cameron but other than that it will have little impact but to reinforce all the negative perceptions of the backwards-looking attitudes associated with "old Tories". It will be seen as proof that leopards don't change their spots, while broad support from Lib Dems, Labour and the more sober-minded Tory MPs will ensure that Lynne Featherstone will be allowed to press ahead with a full consultation on amending marriage laws. Given that there was no agreed position on marriage equality within the coalition agreement, this is quite a triumph for the Liberal Democrats and Lynne Featherstone in particular.

Relics of a previous era who would deny equality on the basis of something as superficial as sexuality will be defeated, because they deserve to be. They will drift into political obscurity for the same reason.

Meanwhile, closer to home, I hope to be attending an Equal Marriage reception at Holyrood at the end of the month. Following its own consultation, will the Scottish government have the courage to take a lead on this and legislate for full marriage equality? Like Mr Burrowes I'm cautiously optimistic but, unlike him, have more than sufficient reason to be positive.


Gedguy said...

Interesting article. I'll give a little background to me and then comment so you know where I am coming from.
I am straight. I love women and I am in a 'relationship' just now. That said, I have homosexual and lesbian in my family. When I was managing bars in Margate, Kent I took over a bar and it was three weeks before I realised it was a 'gay' and lesbian bar. I should have been realised by the pink walls.

The Tory party are hypocritical in their stance on homosexuality when their party is riddled with it. It is disgusting, in these days, that ones sexual orientation, whatever that may be, is used to to disenfranchise them from living a normal life in our society. I don't see what it is that they are frightened of. There have been excuses made that 'they' might prey on the young and 'convert' them. That may be true but don't 'straights' do the same thing? Both should be locked up.
There should be no difference in how the law treats either sex or their sexual orientation; all should be equal under the law. As to marriage in a civil ceremony I have no complaints but where Gays etc. are trying to force Churches to allow marriages in their church I don't believe that they should have that right. It should be up to the church whether they allow that or not. If they don't like it then that church is not for them; they can leave.

Andrew said...

Thanks. I agree with everything you say, although I'm trying to comprehend how anyone an work in a "gay" bar and not realise it! As far as churches performing "gay" marriages goes, I think it is vital that each church makes their own decision rather than be forced. But the leglislation should be there to allow them to perform same-sex marriages if they wish (the Quakers, Unitarians and a few other denominations have indicated they would like to).

Gedguy said...

The bar was in such a mess, physically and financially that I wasn't paying attention to what was going on as all my concentration was on trying to sort it out. Even the staff that I had were all gay and Lesbians.
I only found out during a conversation with one of the men in bar. We were discussing some subject [I forget what] and finding the subject interesting I put my elbows on the bar with my face cupped in my hands. He did the same and slowly edged closer to me until the moment when I realised he was about to kiss me. I shot back in shock and asked him what he was doing! He then told me it was a gay bar. When my staff came on duty that night I asked on of the guys why he didn't tell me it was a gay bar. he was shocked that I didn't know and informed me that all the staff were gay also. After a while I made some really good friends when they realised I was straight. I think I was classified as an honorary gay.
I would say though, that sometimes I needed an umbrella from all the hissing from the 'she boys' when they were arguing with each other. Apart from that I quite enjoyed my nine months there.

Munguin said...

There are those who think that the SNP should not have let this out of the bag as well. Just because it’s not a doorstep issue. But unlike the Tories the SNP are keen on doing, or trying to do, the things they say they will do. And in this instance it’s the right thing to do. Whatever, it gives that hackneyed old dinosaur Gordon Wilson a chance to bump his gums and feel important once more!

Although apparently his plumy tones in the Save Marriage campaign (or whatever it’s called) got so up peoples noses that support for gay marriage surged. Go figure!

Andrew said...

The SNP did the right thing in "letting this out of the bag". Agreed, it's not a doorstep issue and there are few votes to be gained by pursuing this. But it's still an issue that most people support and there is no question in my mind that pursuing equality is absolutely the right thing to do.

Tony Blair, for all his faults, showed tremendous courage (or confidence) when his government did a fair amount for LGBT equality in the late 1990s. Then, of course, the public was not as supportive as it is now. There are a number of reasons why social attitudes have changed in that short time, but no doubt the tactics and attitudes of organisations such as the Christian Institute and the Save Marriage campaign have contributed.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing that statement from Cameron on the news. "It's a Conservative thing to do" he said.

"Oh no, it's not", thought I in return, "as doubtless you will find out in the near future"!

You just can't be all things to all people.