Tory MP David Burrowes: I only want a referendum on same-sex marriage so I can defeat the government’s bill

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Conservative MP David Burrowes has justified calls for a referendum on same-sex marriage and says he would use it to defeat the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Appearing on BBC 2’s Daily Politics, the Enfield-Southgate MP said equal marriage “Wasn’t in any of the parties’ manifestos,” he added: “It’s also the significance of the change, it isn’t simply just a tidying up of marriage law, it is also a significant social change that needs to be dealt with carefully [with] proper scrutiny, and also if it needs to happen, it needs to happen building a consensus.”

When asked if he accepted that referendums were usually reserved for matters concerning constitutional change, and not social change, Mr Burrowes said: “It is but this has constitutional implications as well, there’s issues of the Church and State, who have had a key interest in marriage for hundreds of years.”

Sitting opposite Mr Burrowes gay former Tory MP Matthew Parris replied: “Mr Burrowes says that he wants a consensus but I don’t think a consensus would be possible because I very much doubt whether anything would persuade you to be in favour of gay marriage and I know nothing would persuade me to be against gay marriage, and in the end you have to have a vote… I wouldn’t fear a referendum because I have no doubt at all that gay marriage would pass a popular referendum absolutely no doubt at all.

Mr Parris continued: “I do wonder about this principal that you have a referendum when something wasn’t in the manifesto. [The government] is going to bring in health charges for immigrants until they start earning money that wasn’t in the [manifesto] do you want a referendum on that?”

Mr Burrowes replied: “No but you have to accept that the issue of gay marriage has been particularly significant not least in the party but also the nation”.

Later in the interview, Mr Parris said to Mr Burrowes: “You don’t want a debate you just want to defeat the measure don’t you?”

Mr Burrowes replied: “Well I want both.”

Presenter Jo Coburn then said to Mr Burrowes: “Right so it is a vehicle you want to use [in order to] defeat a measure you don’t like?”

The MP replied: “Well it would be… it would affect the commencement of this bill, but I am concerned about that as well as trying to ensure we have freedom of speech, properly protected in the bill, surely the government will be able to accept that when it comes to those amendments on Monday.”   

Earlier this week, Mr Burrowes warned that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill resembles the shark in the 1970s thriller movie, Jaws.

The House of Commons will debate the bill as part of its third reading on 20 and 21 May.

In February, Conservative Equalities Minister Helen Grant reminded her Tory colleagues that equal marriage “was in the Contract for Equalities that was published at the same time as the Conservative General Election manifesto,” she added: “It was quite clear what our intentions may well be.”