Same-sex marriage passes third reading in House of Commons

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Maria Miller: "Let us make equal marriage possible because it's the right thing to do, and then let us move on."
Image: Department for Work and Pensions.

The UK House of Commons voted yesterday to approve the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at third reading, with 366 MPs supporting and 161 MPs opposing. The Bill proceeds today to the House of Lords. The legislation continues to draw strong criticism from right wing Conservative MPs and has caused political trouble for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Opponents of the Bill led by Tim Loughton MP submitted an amendment to allow opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, which were introduced in 2004 as an alternative to marriage for same sex couples. The government warned that Loughton's amendment was an attempt to wreck the passage of the Bill. Sir George Young, the Conservative chief whip, asked Labour whips to oppose the amendment despite the Labour Party previously supporting the amendment.

A Labour Party source quoted in The Guardian said they "had an eleventh hour appeal from the government that they did not have the numbers to defeat the Tim Loughton amendment" and that Labour leader Ed Miliband considered it an "overriding priority [...] to ensure that the bill gets on to the statute book. Ed and Yvette Cooper will therefore be voting against the Tim Loughton amendment. We expect a large number of MPs to join Ed and Yvette. Since there was a genuine threat to the bill Ed decided the best thing to do was to act in this way."

A rival amendment put forward by the Labour Party would bring in a review of whether civil partnerships ought to be extended to opposite sex couples but would not delay the implementation of marriage for same sex couples. This amendment was approved 391 to 57 by the Commons.

Opponents of the Bill including David Burrowes and Peter Bone are hoping the House of Lords will reject the law: Burrowes stated Lords would have the right to reject the bill as "there was no clear manifesto commitment, no coalition agreement, no green paper — just a sham consultation". The Conservative Party's 2010 "contract for equalities" reads, "We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage."

Norman Tebbit in 2008.
Image: James Robertson.

In an interview with The Big Issue, former cabinet minister and Conservative peer Norman Tebbit expressed concern about the possibility that a law legalising gay marriage would cause confusion regarding royal succession: "When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?"

Tebbit also argued the new law "would lift my worries about inheritance tax because maybe I'd be allowed to marry my son. Why not? Why shouldn't a mother marry her daughter? Why shouldn't two elderly sisters living together marry each other?"

During the debate, Gerald Howarth referred to Conservative MP Margot James as representative of an "aggressive homosexual community": "I warn you, and MPs on all sides of the house, that I fear that the playing field has not been levelled. I believe that the pendulum is now swinging so far the other way and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further". Howarth's comments sparked a trending topic on the social networking site Twitter.

David Cameron has been on the political defensive since rumours circulated that Conservative Party co-chairman Lord Feldman referred to Conservative activists as "mad, swivel-eyed loons". Conservative Grassroots chairman Miles Windsor remarked, "This week has begun a civil war in conservatism, it may rumble on for years — but as things stand, Nigel Farage is winning it at a stride."

Maria Miller, the government minister responsible for equality, tweeted after the vote on the third reading: "Just won Third Reading vote of Equal Marriage Bill - After all the hard work, its moment to be proud of. It's the Right Thing". Labour MP Diane Abbott said: "I did not think I would live to see the day this reached third reading."

On BBC Radio 4, David Cameron welcomed the passage of the bill: "I think we should think about it like this — that there will be young boys in schools today who are gay, who are worried about being bullied, who are worried about what society thinks of them, who can see that the highest Parliament in the land has said that their love is worth the same as anybody else’s love and that we believe in equality. I think they will stand that bit taller today and I’m proud of the fact that that has happened."