Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Gay marriage – never mind the Tories, what about the Labour and Lib Dem rebels?

Most of the media attention regarding today’s House of Commons debate on gay marriage has focused on the behaviour of the large number of Tory rebels. Relatively little attention has been paid to opponents in other parties.

The Huffington Post is one of the few media to cover this angle. For the latest data, however, one must check the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s list. 15 Labour MPs are currently known to be against gay marriage, while at least three Liberal Democrat MPs (Gordon Birtwistle, John Pugh and Sarah Teather) are also opposed. A further seven Liberal Democrat MPs have yet to declare their intentions, so there could be more (those undeclared are Alan Beith, Annette Brooke, Duncan Hames, Charles Kennedy, Greg Mulholland, Robert Smith and John Thurso).

Well it’s a free vote for MPs of all parties, so they can do as they please. But given that the Liberal Democrats (and the pre-merger Liberal Party) pioneered gay rights policies long before they became fashionable, the decisions of any opponents are hard to justify and undermine the credibility of the party on LGBT issues.

John Pugh’s explanation in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s World at One earlier today was incoherent and unconvincing [listen online here – zap forward to 13:30]. It was not at all clear what his call for more “gradual” reform would mean in practice. If he opposes gay marriage on religious grounds, he should just say so, instead of waffling apologetically in a way that will impress no one on either side of the debate.

Gordon Birtwistle, meanwhile, simply asserts that gay marriage is “not on” – whatever that means. Why Sarah Teather opposes gay marriage is anybody’s guess.

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