Labour MP Austin Mitchell: The equal marriage debate was moving — I had to vote for the bill

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Labour’s Austin Mitchell was planning to abstain in this week’s equal marriage vote by MPs, but when he heard the emotional speeches of supportive MPs, it changed his mind.

In December of last year, the Grimsby MP tweeted that “Gay marriage is neither urgent nor important”.

Mr Mitchell told PinkNews that unless Labour leader Ed Miliband granted Labour backbenchers a free vote on the issue, he would vote against the measure as it would not be in the spirit of “personal freedom”.

Mr Miliband subsequently confirmed that Labour backbenchers would be given a free vote.

Last September, Labour previously indicated that it would impose a three-line whip.

Following Tuesday’s debate, Austin Mitchell said: “I heard all the arguments and decided it was almost inevitable. I was very moved by some of the speeches and decided I couldn’t win by abstaining, so I voted for it.”

One of the most heart-warming speeches of the day was delivered by Conservative MP Mike Freer, who spoke movingly of his relationship with his civil partner of 21 years.

Mr Freer said: “I’m not asking for special treatment I am simply asking for equal treatment.”

22 Labour MPs voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – and 16 MPs including Gordon Brown were not present for the vote.

136 Conservatives – almost half of the party’s MPs – opposed the bill.

Of the remaining Conservative MPs, 127 were in favour, 35 did not vote, and five registered an abstention by voting both in favour and against.