The Prime Minister giving a free vote on gay marriage will bring about a hurricane of debate within The Conservative Party over whether allowing same sex marriage is ‘conservative’ or not.
I have never really been that vocal or indeed taken much of an interested in the debate as I thought there was none to be had. I guess being a non-religious, single, straight male, who has no real interested in ever getting marred, the issue never came up. But in working with the Bow Group, the oldest Conservative think-tank, I’ve come to realise there is indeed a very big debate – and one that is being fought emotionally by both sides.
The Bow Group, whose sole purpose is to create policy debate within the Conservative Party, has tried to kick-start a discussion on whether the coalition should bring in legalisation to create same sex marriage. In the Westminster bubble, it is the norm for Conservative supporters to be pro-same sex marriage. To my surprise, the majority of Conservative supporters and conservative-minded people elsewhere are against it.
There will be a lot of people on the Left who will say ‘of course Conservatives are against LGBT people’. Well they are wrong. If you speak to Conservative supporters in the deepest, darkest, true blue out-posts, they will tell you honestly, they have nothing against gay people. What they are worried about is the Government forcing legislation on them and on their churches.
Yes, you will find people who really are against same sex marriage and generally they will cite some form of natural law argument. They believe that a homosexual couple is weaker than a heterosexual couple and that homosexuality is an ‘unnatural’ existence. These people will never be convinced.
But for the majority of conservative-minded people, support for same-sex marriage – if explained in the sense that to bring in gay marriage is not to force any religion to marry homosexual people, but to give religion more freedom – can increase.
Currently certain religious sects, such as the Quakers and Reformed Jewish Synagogues, wish to marry gay couples, but can’t as the law is against it. No Government would ever introduce legislation – nor could it ever get it through the Houses – to restrict religious freedom. On the contrary, legislation from the government would give greater freedom to all religions to practise their beliefs on marriage in the way they wish. They will be free to allow, or not, same sex marriage, like we see with divorces.
In reality the change to marriage would be very little. It would be less a dark storm that blows off the old sturdy books of traditional marriage, more a gentle summer breeze to lightly change a stagnated page.
The changes would be to the wording of the legal definition as laid out in 1866 by Lord Penzance in the case of Hyde v Hyde and Woodhouse. Lord Penzance said marriage is “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. All you would have to do is change one man and one woman to, two people.
Other actual changes are that same sex marriage would be based on an exchange of (religious or non-religious) vows instead of signing of a register, as currently seen in civil partnerships between gay couples. It could end the need to consummate a marriage or, simpler still, for the law to simply recognise gay sex as being real sex. At the moment only sex between a male and female is considered actual sexual intercourse. This change would mean to have sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex could be grounds for divorce whereas at the moment it is only ‘cheating’, in the eyes of the law, if it was with a member of the opposite sex.
Ultimately, the debate can be reduced to a simple question or two: does the state recognise homosexual people as being the same as heterosexual people? Or should the state class people, whose only difference from the majority of the population is there sexual orientation, as a subcategory?
I now believe that the gay marriage debate is on a par with the debates on universal suffrage and abolition of the slave trade. The great conservative evangelical politician William Wilberforce used logic and arguments with conviction against fellow Christians and conservatives over the abolition of the slave trade. These arguments can be used by the pro-gay marriage side for the abolition of laws that do not give religion, or people, the freedom to marry who they want.
The pro-same sex marriage side must refrain from resorting to name-calling (‘bigots’ being particularly popular) and refusing to debate. They can win this argument and change people’s minds by simply presenting the fact that all same-sex marriage will really do is to make homosexual people truly equal to heterosexual people in our nation.