Tory MP: Not the time for gay marriage debate

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A backbench revolt against equal marriage rights is reported to be brewing ahead of the government’s consultation in March.

The Independent reports that at one of the Conservative party’s weekly 1922 Committee meetings, backbenchers expressed opposition to the government’s planned consultation.

Conservative MP for Enfield-Southgate, David Burrowes told the Independent the debate should be about “how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights”, and said there was no public outcry for marriage equality.

Talking to the paper about same-sex marriage, he said: “Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country.

“There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.”

Equalities legislation was also cited in a challenge to the new rules on allowing civil partnerships in religious institutions.

In December, a short-lived Lords revolt questioned whether the rules meant churches would be forced to perform civil partnership ceremonies in order to stay within equality laws, despite assurances this would not be the case.

Burrowes continued: “Gay marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about.

“It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that.”

But it is unclear how widespread dissent would be after the consultation, and how much it would hinder the progress of legislation.

Adrian Trett, the Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats said today: “As the only major party to support equal marriage, we will continue to work hard to bring it about, working with supporters from all parties and none.”

James Asser, Co-chair of LGBT Labour said: “It’s very disappointing but unsurprising to see the comments of David Burrowes and hear that there is likely to be opposition from Tory MPs. This is the second time in the last few months that we’ve seen Conservative MPs on the Government payroll speak-out against marriage equality. Ultimately if this comes to a vote in Parliament there will be enough Labour and Lib Dem MPs with some of the minority parties to overcome any Tory rebellion and ensure marriage equality passes in the House of Commons.

“This should give us all a warning though that those opposed to LGBT rights are intending to fight marriage equality every step of the way. We can expect to see the same old prejudices we saw when Civil Partnerships were debated back in 2005. The key battle-ground in this fight, however, is still going to be the House of Lords where we can expect even stronger oppposition than there will be in the House of Commons.”

Burrowes added in his comments to the Independent: “There are many other ways that the Conservatives can show we are a modern party – not least our social justice agenda. This is too important an issue to decide in terms of where it positions our party.”

In October of last year, the Prime Minister said: “To anyone who has reservations, I say this: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.

“So I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”

A Number 10 source said today: “The Prime Minister stands by this commitment and we look forward to the consultation beginning.”

Burrowes reaffirmed today he did not “see the need for gay marriage to be enshrined in legislation which I see more in terms of a redefinition of marriage than an issue of homosexual rights”, but denied his views showed him to be anti-gay or homophobic.

In a statement, he said: “I recognise that there are strong opinions for and against the proposal of marriage and I hope the debate can be conducted with respect without resort to abuse and prejudice. I do not see the need for gay marriage to be enshrined in legislation which I see more in terms of a redefinition of marriage than an issue of homosexual rights.”

“In my view Civil Partnerships has already made great strides for homosexual rights which mean the case still needs to be made for Parliament to now legislate.”

The MP wrote that “if you change the shape of marriage away from being a union of a man and woman you change its purpose. Colleagues on all sides of Parliament will agree and disagree and we need to ensure that there is an open debate which does not descend to prejudice and abuse.”

He concluded: “I do not see the need for legislation to recognise gay marriage but it does not at all follow that I am anti gay and homophobic. I welcome and await the debate in March but also recognise that there are more pressing issues of concern facing my constituents and the country. For example today I was pleased to lead an important debate about how we care for the dying and support good quality palliative care.”