Gay + Marriage = Conservative Divide

After months of debate around the coalition’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage, this week will see the first parliamentary debate of the marriage (same sex couples) bill.

Since the draft legislation to enable same-sex marriages was published, as expected, there has been a clear divide within the Conservative party. David Cameron has sparked fury with many of the parliamentary party, who will be getting a free vote on the legislation when it is debated in the Commons on Tuesday.

The new law, under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, will permit same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies – where a religious institution has formally consented. It will also allow couples who have previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage. Cameron sees the introduction as the “Conservative party delivering the promise it made”.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, a big supporter of reforms, said on Sunday: “Every year thousands of people choose to marry in a church rather than a register office because they believe marriage is sacred. Religious freedom is not just for heterosexuals – we should not deny anyone the right to make a lifelong commitment to another person in front of God if that is what they believe and that is what their church allows.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove MP wrote in the Mail on Sunday yesterday that he backs the proposal. Gove wrote:
“It’s wrong to say that because of how you love and who you love, you are not entitled to the same rights as others. It’s wrong because inequality is wrong. Marriage is not undermined by extending it to gay people – it is reinforced by including everyone equally.”

Yet, it is no secret that some members of the Conservative party are opposed to the move – even more so after it was made clear that there would be no inclusion of marriage tax breaks in next month’s budget.

Jeremy Wright MP said: “I will listen to the arguments in favour on Tuesday, but I am not persuaded by what I have heard so far.”

The main opposing argument here is religion. Cameron believes that gay marriage is a fundamental issue of equality and is determined to make it law. However, he is facing repercussions from within his own party and churches who believe it would challenge the institution of marriage by redefining it.

In a bid to reassure those who are sceptical, the Government has reiterated its commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. By offering a quadruple-lock guarantee that the European court of human rights would not be allowed to interfere.

Furthermore, the Church of England and the Church in Wales will be will be excluded from the new law, which could be seen as some sort of compromise to the naysayers.

Culture Secretary, Maria Miller MP said the Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly stated” their opposition to offering same-sex ceremonies, so the government would “explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples”.

In a statement to MPs, she said the government wanted to strike a balance between the rights of gay couples and the rights of religious organisations.

But there is further concern that other professionals like teachers, hospital chaplains and the like, could be dismissed legally from their jobs if they were to oppose same-sex marriages due to their own personal beliefs.

Michael Gove MP has said that teachers will not face the sack if they object to promoting gay marriage.

However, despite these assurances, many Conservative MPs are still expected to vote against Cameron.

Cameron has also been sent a letter, signed by 25 chairmen or former chairmen of Conservative Party associations, warning that the policy will cause “significant damage” at the ballot box, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

We can only eagerly wait till Tuesday to find out what will happen. In reality, the question is, can the decision really tear the Conservatives apart? Everyone is bound to have an opinion and not everyone will agree – especially with controversial debates like this one. Giving same-sex couples the right to marry in a religious setting is something David Cameron hoped would win the party broader support. One would hope it is merely a difference of opinion amongst colleagues…but it seems, the issue risks splitting the party and alienating their core voters.  It has been speculated that of the 303 Conservative MPs, 114 are likely to vote against the proposal. Only 108 are in favour of it.

With the boundary review out the window and this Bill set to pass, David Cameron’s hopes of strengthening his majority in 2015 are looking increasingly remote.

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