Exclusive: Nick Clegg thanks British people for being ahead of politicians in supporting equal marriage

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At last night’s PinkNews Awards, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg paid tribute to the British people in helping the political classes back equal marriage, saying “It shows how change can happy quickly when people work together”.

The Liberal Democrat leader made the remarks yesterday at the PinkNews Awards, held in the State Rooms, Speaker’s House, at the Palace of Westminster.

Shortly after Speaker John Bercow opened the event, Mr Clegg presented the first award, PinkNews Community Group of the Year, which was won by Out4Marriage, Lobby A Lord, Coalition for Equal marriage and Equal Marriage (From the Scottish Equality Network).

Just before the event began, PinkNews Deputy Editor Joseph Patrick McCormick proposed to his partner, James Hanson.

Congratulating the couple, Mr Clegg said: “James, Joseph – brilliant that you should be able to propose, and have your proposal for marriage accepted in such [a lavish setting].”

Comparing the proposal to his own, but noting the “lavish” setting, Mr Clegg said: “When I think back to when I proposed to Miriam fifteen years ago, it was when we were standing alone on a windy rural railway station platform in rural Lincolnshire on our way to Sleaford.”

Mr Clegg also praised Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert, who was attending the awards.

On Tuesday, Mr Gilbert tossed a lifebelt into the water to save a woman from being swept away down the Thames.

“I would also like to add my tribute to Stephen Gilbert’s heroism for saving that unfortunate lady’s life when he threw her a safety ring,” Mr Clegg said. “I would like to claim that this is just a typical act of ‘muscular liberalism’ in action, but I know that Stephen was only out there, in the unpleasant weather, because he was smoking a cigarette.”

Mr Clegg then joked: “This is the first time I think anyone can claim that smoking saves lives.”

Turning his attention to this year’s Royal Assent of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, Mr Clegg said: “Little did I know as PinkNews publisher Benjamin Cohen recounts, when I first said ‘look of course we should give the right to marry on the same basis to all couples’, little did I know actually in a relatively short space of time we would be standing here celebrating this ground-breaking legislation.

“There are so many people who I think have been and should quite rightly be thanked for that. I certainly think PinkNews, Benjamin, and his team need to be thanked for their campaigning zeal right from the get go. I do very much endorse what Speaker [Bercow] said about the fact that this did become very quickly and thankfully, rarely, in polarised British political debate, a subject of genuine cross-party cooperation and consensus.

“I want to pay tribute to some of the extraordinarily moving and powerful uplifting speeches we were all witnessed to in both the House of Commons and House of Lords.

“Actually in many ways I think the greatest tribute strangely enough – this may sound slightly mawkish – goes to the British people, because I think looking back over whole the debate this was an absolutely vintage example of where the political class was tying itself in knots in anxiety on whether we were pushing change to fast, but in fact the British people had long thought that this kind of change should have happened.

“It was very intriguing to see how poll after poll after poll, in focus group after focus group, actually the British people said ‘well just get on with it; we think [equal marriage] is fine and normal, why can’t the political classes just catch up”.

“It shows how change can happy quickly when people work together”.

Turning his attention to LGBT rights abroad, Mr Clegg added: “We have made great great strides in securing greater LGBT rights in our country – there is of course further to go, there always is, but I don’t that should anyway obscure us from the problems that exist aboard. I think we have got to be as outspoken, as forthright in speaking up for those rights aboard as we have been campaigning for them at home

“I’m certainly committed [and] my party is, and I can certainly speak on behalf of the Coalition Government and everyone else here as well: whether it’s in Russia, whether it’s in parts of the Commonwealth – where we see acts of blatant discrimination which is entirely out of keeping with the kind of values that have been enshrined in the same-sex marriage act, we should proudly and collectively stand against that type of discrimination too.”

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