Ben Bradshaw defends marriage priority comments

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Gay Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has said his comments on marriage equality, which he said was not a priority for the gay community while a debate over government proposals continues, have been taken ‘out of context rather grotesquely’ and ‘quoted selectively’.

Mr Bradshaw told Scott Roberts of GaydarRadio today: “I’m a strong supporter of gay marriage. Few people have fought as hard as I have over a lifetime and in politics for gay equality and I support gay marriage and I will support whatever legislation this government brings forward.”

The former culture secretary had answered a question posed by the Washington Post last week on marriage equality proposals in England and Wales, calling them “pure politics” on the part of the prime minister, denying it was a priority for the gay community.

At the time, the Coalition for Marriage’s petition calling on the government to abandon plans for marriage equality between gay and straight couples had recently reached 400,000 signatures.

Over the weekend, Mr Bradshaw clarified his position, saying in part that he had not “yet heard an explanation as to how what the Government is proposing would be different or better” than civil partnerships and that, while he would support it, it was “not the priority” compared with hate crimes, homophobic bullying and the treatment of LGBT people around the world.

He acknowledged today that the issue may have become a priority, with the proposals having come under fire from religious groups, and said Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s description of the proposals as “grotesque” and his attempt to draw parallels with slavery “were in themselves grotesque in the extreme”.

But, to those who suggested equality would not be possible without equal marriage, he said there “isn’t a difference, at least not one that I can detect, between civil partnerships and gay marriage in legal terms”.

He added that “bullying, homophobia in the workplace, the state of affairs in most of the world where you are imprisoned and worse just for being gay which, for me, are higher priorities. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t support it, I do support it and I will support it.”

In an interview with in 2009, Mr Bradshaw said the Daily Telegraph’s exposé into MPs’ expenses had a “clear strand of homophobia” running through it.

He said of the paper’s investigations: “They have also referred to my partner as my boyfriend – did they refer to Samantha Cameron as David Cameron’s girlfriend? All partners have shared income rights.

“The implication is gay people in civil partnerships are not equal.”

Quizzed by GaydarRadio today on why he said it was “pure politics” on David Cameron’s part, a charge which gay Conservative MP Stuart Andrew said could be levelled at Mr Bradshaw himself, he said the comment had been part of the answer to a question by the Washington Post.

He said “many political commentators” have said the prime minister is “trying to continue to detoxify the Tory brand”.

Mr Bradshaw added: “I don’t really care what the reasons are […] I support the fact he’s doing it and I think I’m perfectly entitled to make the point that many others have that his is part, on the Tory side, of a campaign to try to persuade people that they have modernised the party. I think to some extent they have, but I don’t think they have completely as the opposition from many Tory MPs shows.”