Update: Stonewall boss Ben Summerskill argued that Lib Dem equal marriage plan could cost up to £5bn

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24 hours ago, PinkNews.co.uk carried a report from about a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats party conference where Stonewall chief executive was reported to have said he was opposed to gay marriage equality because it could cost £5bn. This was based on reports coming from a number of blogs and people who have previously contributed to PinkNews.co.uk as we were not there in person. The reportage was subsequently supported by a number of other people in attendance and who spoke at the debate.

Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill has complained about what he claims are a number of inaccuracies in the content of that original report which we have attempted to address here.

Having spoken to Mr Summerskill late on Tuesday evening, it is clear though that from his perspective, he was not arguing against gay marriage equality in general but rather that he pointed out that the gay marriage equality policy subsequently adopted by the Liberal Democrats at their party conference could cost up to £5bn. In a statement, Stonewall say that “this is a policy on which Stonewall expressed and expresses no view.”

This policy allows for straight and gay couples to have the option of both marriage and civil partnerships. Mr Summerskill pointed out claims that implementing the form of marriage equality adopted by the Liberal Democrats could cost tax payers up to £5bn. This would be due to a theoretical increase in straight couples taking up the opportunity of civil partnerships, with knock on implications to their entitlement to pension and tax benefits. Mr Summerskill called on ministers to publish the Treasury Impact Assessment that will have been carried out.

In a statement, Stonewall said: “with an estimated cost of £5bn over 10 years, people have understandably raised the question of whether it is likely in the current economic environment that such a policy would be implemented in the lifetime of this parliament.” It also added: “campaigning to end heterosexual disadvantage is not one of its [Stonewall’s] charitable objectives.”

At the fringe meeting, Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert, who proposed the policy, argued that it should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and claimed that if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach, it would still have apartheid. He later posted on Twitter: “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me.”

This argument appears to have been interpreted by some in the room, including those who contacted PinkNews.co.uk as an argument against gay marriage in general by Mr Summerskill. Something that as PinkNews.co.uk did point out yesterday, Mr Summerskill says he is still consulting with Stonewall supporters about. In 2009, explaining why the charity was then not actively campaigning for LGBT marriage equality, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “we know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn’t want marriage, and some have explicitly said so.”

In a statement on the 21st September 2010, Stonewall said: “While some lesbian, gay and bisexual people fully support changing civil partnership into marriage, there are others – including particularly some women – who do not want something that is either the same as or synonymous with marriage.”

A survey for PinkNews.co.uk last month found that 98 per cent of readers favoured full marriage equality.

Stonewall was criticised by former London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick during a party conference debate on the policy for not supporting the measure, but it passed with just three delegates speaking against.

Stonewall say that they are consulting with their 20,000 supporters about what approach to take in regards to the “future of civil partnership.”

Deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will now raise the issue of marriage equality with prime minister David Cameron when the former returns from a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

Comments made during the 21st September have been suspended at the request of Stonewall. It is possible to post comments though on this amended version of the article.

PinkNews.co.uk is happy to publish the clarifications above and apologises for any confusion caused by the original report.

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