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Conservative MPs should think twice before voting against equal marriage

5 February 2013

12:16 PM

5 February 2013

12:16 PM

Equal marriage has provoked anguished internal discussions in the Tory Party. Twenty  Association Chairmen have asked the Prime Minister to backtrack on the proposals and up to 180 MPs are rumoured to be considering voting against the proposals today. But opponents of the Bill should rethink their position, given that our research and international evidence shows that gay marriage would be good for gay people and good for the institution of marriage, as well as being firmly based in conservative thinking.

The conservative tradition isn’t that of stern, unbending reaction that its critics often caricature it as. Instead, throughout history Conservatives have adapted to changed circumstances – in Disraeli’s words to ‘preserve all that is good… and remove all that is bad.’ Extending the beneficial institution of marriage to gay people would be firmly within that tradition – protecting and preserving the institution of marriage, whilst removing the inequity and unfairness that excludes gay people from the institution.

Equal marriage is about extending the benefits of marriage to a group presently excluded because of something over which they have no choice, it isn’t about ‘redefining’ the institution. As M V Lee Badgett suggested after a study of how equal marriage had worked in Holland, ‘all the evidence suggests that same-sex couples will fit right into our current understanding of marriage… Marriage itself will not be affected’.

Conservatives have always strongly believed in the social power of institutions and in the power of the family and marriage as an institution. Equal marriage would be firmly within that tradition. There’s a huge amount of evidence that marriage as an institution is good for individuals and society – married people are likely to be healthier, wealthier and happier than single people or cohabitees. They’re also more likely to remain faithful and stay together for longer as the social power of marriage means that it acts as a ‘commitment device’.


It’s entirely conservative to argue that the powerful benefits of marriage must be extended to gay people and that gay people in particular could benefit from the institution.  Gay men are more likely to suffer mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and rates of HIV have been on the rise amongst gay males in recent years. American psychologist, Alan Downs, coined the phrase ‘Velvet Rage’ to describe a feeling of alienation felt by gay men that leads to an increased incidence of mental health problems.

Nobody is arguing that equal marriage is a panacea that is going to solve these issues, or ongoing problems such as homophobic bullying in schools, the number of violent homophobic attacks or the lack of gay role models in football. But the social support and commitment device offered by marriage could help extend the health and stability benefits of marriage to gay people. This is surely something that conservatives who believe in the benefits of marriage should support. Equal marriage would also make quite clear that gay and lesbian people are absolutely equal members of society, help to build a bridge between gay people and their parents and, in doing so, reduce the sense of alienation felt by some young gay people.

There’s very little evidence that equal marriage had a damaging impact when it was introduced in ten other countries and considerable evidence that that it has delivered benefits. No country to have introduced equal marriage has turned its back on the measure. Electorates also seem to grow increasingly supportive of gay marriage when they have seen it work in practice. In Holland, for example, support for equal marriage now stands at some 82% and only 18% of Spanish voters want the law to be repealed.  Divorce rates have fallen in some countries that have introduced the reform and risen in others – there is no evidence that equal marriage has had any notable impact either way.

People are right to be concerned about religious freedom. Whether the Church of England decides to hold or bless same sex marriage should be a decision for the Synod, not for Parliament or the courts. That is why it is right that safeguards are being put in place to ensure that there is no compulsion on religious institutions. It’s notable that the Law Society, amongst other distinguished lawyers, have argued that it’s extremely unlikely that an ECHR decision would force religious institutions to act against their will.  And it would be wrong if it did. It would also be wrong, though, for religions, such as the Quakers, Unitarians and liberal Jews who want to marry gay people on their premises to be prevented from doing so.

Conservatives who worry about the impact of equal marriage on their electoral chances should study opinion polls more closely. Equal marriage is a popular concept amongst the general public and polls have shown that this support is stronger in areas such as the North and the Midlands than it is in London. Anthony Wells of You Gov has argued that ‘gay marriage will have a negligible impact on Tory support.’ If David Cameron were to U-turn on the issue, however, it could have a negative impact on the Tory image and help to retoxify the Tory brand, turning off just those voters that it needs to win in 2015.

Conservative MPs should think twice before voting against equal marriage. There is strong support for the measure in the country and international evidence suggests that the dire warnings of opponents are misplaced. Put simply, if MPs believe in the benefits of marriage then they should also support the extension of these benefits to a group presently excluded from them. Supporting equal marriage would be firmly in line with the best elements of the conservative tradition.

David Skelton is Deputy Director of Policy Exchange.

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Show comments
  • sceptic3
  • Mike Barnes

    Tories on the wrong side of history as usual.

    It’s really no story, anyway they’ll probably be dead within 20 years, and by then multicultural gay Britain won’t even remember the people who opposed gay marriage.

  • andagain

    If David Cameron were to U-turn on the issue, however, it could have a negative impact on the Tory image and help to retoxify the Tory brand, turning off just those voters that it needs to win in 2015.

    The Tories do not want to win the next election. They want to blame David Cameron for losing it. And to do that, they need to lose the election first.

    • Mark Myword

      A shrewd comment – and I think you may be right.

      • andagain

        To be fair, I do not know this for sure. But it would explain an awful lot.

  • David Lindsay

    “Equal marriage”?

    No concept of consummation, presumably because no one could bring themselves to try and work out what it would entail, still less present a description of such a thing in writing to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent.

    No concept of adultery, what little remains of it since the introduction of no fault divorce the last time that the Conservative Party was allowed anywhere near the government of this country. From the people who brought you abortion up to birth…

    A category of legal marriage which cannot be solemnised by the Established Church.

    And civil partnerships still available. Still available, specifically, to unrelated same-sex couples only, despite the deliberate lack of any sexual content, as there would also now be in a category of marriage. A jaw-dropping privilege, which they never even sought. Just as they have never sought this.

    The debate is already indicating that there might be more Labour votes against than expected, and a very large number if the thing ever reached Third Reading, simply because the text of this Bill is so horrendous. Yet it cannot be any other way.

    Just as well that, even leaving aside the outrageous provisions for non-scrutiny to which it is to be non-subjected, this Bill is never going to reach Third Reading, there to suffer a Labour three-line whip to abstain while giving a green light to backbenchers to vote against, not a principle, but a specific, unconscionable legislative text.

    After which, precisely because the giving of legislative effect to that principle would be impossible in any other terms, the whole thing would never have been heard of again. As it is, though, that is just going to happen, anyway. Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the depths of the Palace of Westminster, this Bill is simply going to die. No one, no one at all, will mourn it.

  • Charles Hedges

    ATOS and TRIAGE and A4e are the scandals in need of reform: Gay Marriage is a well deployed diversionary tactic.

  • FrankS

    All MPs who vote against this measure should be prosecuted for homophobic hate crimes – that should quash any hate-filled bigoted opposition to this thoroughly progressive, reasonable and carefully considered Bill.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I’d suggest Gordon Brown as special prosecutor for those bigoted sorts.

      He’d take care of them.

    • DWWolds

      You are entitled to your opinion. I am entitled to mine. That is different from yours but is just as valid.

      There is an old saying that there is none so illiberal as a liberal when faced with someone who disagrees with them. You would seem to exemplify that.

      • FrankS

        Just as valid? Surely at least one of them must be pure bigotry? That’s the rule these days. (I could add ‘deal with it’ if I wanted to sound really really annoying.)

        • DrCrackles

          Brown made bigotry preferable did he not?

          • FrankS

            Very acceptable, yes.

  • Chris lancashire

    I really can’t believe there is so much fuss about this. You might have added in your piece that not only do Conservatives care about family institutions but many are also instinctively libertarian. So if it is possible to allow something then let’s allow it. The change does not affect my marriage and I really cannot see what harm it would do but I can see it might do some good to some people.
    Mind you, never underestimate the thickness of the average present day Conservative backbencher.

    • andagain

      It may be the case that most libetarians vote Conservative (what are their other options?), but it does not follow that most Conservatives are libertarians.

      • Chris lancashire

        Agreed, which is why I said many not most. I just tend to think that is a characteristic of Conservatism as opposed to the “we know best” of statist Labour.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          It is a characteristic of all of the LibLabCon monolith.

          You don’t appear to understand libertarian thought.

  • FrankS

    Coming soon: Equal Conception, Equal Pregnancy, Equal Childbirth – you know it makes sense!

  • Russell

    “Equal marriage would also make quite clear that gay and lesbian people are absolutely equal members of society”

    Therein lies the problem.

    Marriage has up until now been regarded as a union between a man and a woman (who can produce children).

    Neither a man and a man in marriage can produce children or a woman and a woman, so why should they be regarded as equal to a man and a woman in marriage, they’re not!

    • JLR

      No it hasn’t. There is no legal requirement for a couple to produce children, nor are there bans in place to prevent the infertile, the elderly or just those who plain don’t want to have kids from getting married.

  • Tom Tom

    The Conservative Party should merge wioth Labour and LibDems to form The Block Party. There is The One Policy from The Block.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Of course given how many stooges Cameron is trolling out today to support this legisalation suggests to me that a vast number of Conservative MP’s are going to vote it down.

    It will still pass but Cameron’s credibility will be greatly diminished because everyone will see he no longer carries the support of a majority of his Parlaimentary party over this issue. How long before it is questioned whether the party actually has a more general confidence in him?

    • CharlieleChump

      He has unwittingly announced his departure. Muppet.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Equal marriage

    And there is the lie in a single two word phrase. How can it be equal when one type of Marriage explicitly requires consummation and the other does not with all the follow on implications? The legislation is deeply flawed. Its as bad as Clegg’s HOL reform.

    The thing is it’s hard to work out who is more being conned by the Government the gay community or the opponents of gay marriage? It will all end in tears (except for the lawyers that is) but will be a suitable legacy for this dysfunctional government when its over in 2015

    • CharlieleChump

      AV referendum, HoL reform, gay “marriage” all irrelevant while the national debt soars and growth falters.
      What’s important now?

      • Smithersjones2013

        Cameron’s perverse legacy I suspect

        • CharlieleChump

          Just think what could have been achieved if they could have concentrated their devious political minds on the real job in hand.

          • Smithersjones2013

            I’m sure that would sound far too much like hard work for them…..

          • Tom Tom

            Weimar Republic did some weird stuff too but it wasn’t up to dealing with the mess it created with Philipp Scheidemann….but it soon passed. Now that they have lost control of the agena they want control of people and to give the Thought Police new powers

      • Fergus Pickering

        So nothing at all should be done then?

        • CharlieleChump

          Just do what really, really matters – growth, fix the banks etc, not blather on for the benefit of the SW1/metro elite and their irrelevant preoccupations whether political or social.

  • CharlieleChump

    You are right, MP’s should think long and hard about this. The fact that they are not being allowed to by this rushed legislation, that those who do speak will have at maximum only 4 minutes and MP’s have been told only a minority will be called, means that they are not being given the time necessary to truly consider all implications.
    Once they have considered they should vote no. Civil Partnerships are perfectly adequate for the needs of the gay lobby.

    • CharlieleChump

      Also I would very much like to hear from the Muslim community on their attitude to this subject. The silence on the BBC and the media on this response from Islam has been deafening.

      • Tom Tom

        Muslims have a clear perspective as do Christians and Orthodox Jews – it is only Secularists masquerading as “Reform” Jews or Trendy Anglicans that think they speak for the mainstream on any issue.

        • CharlieleChump

          All true but my point was the media are deliberately ignoring a significant population who I believe are strongly against this nonsense, do not fit into the BBC view of the world.

          • dwwilcox

            why should muslims get involved in the debate when no one is going to allow a gay person to be married in a mosque. We all know what the muslims opinions on this are and respect them for not getting involved in this debate. Now if anyone was trying to suggest that gays should be allowed to marry in mosques then I am sure you would hear the muslim voice loud and clear.

          • JLR

            The media certainly haven’t ignored them, there has been plenty of coverage about the opposition to the bill.

            Moreover are you not ignoring the support for the bill? Polls show the majority of the public are in favour of this so surely the greater democracy is to vote for the bill?

      • Fergus Pickering

        Whatever muslims think I think the opposite. Good rule of thumb.

      • humeanbeing

        Great idea. Perhaps they’d like to explain how the rest of our laws can be made more sharia-compliant while they’re at it?

        Forms of marriage in human culture pre-date all forms of organised religion, so I don’t see why believers of any stamp should get a special say, frankly.

      • Baron

        Equally telling are conversions to Islam, this gay initiative is likely to accelerate the trend further. Madness.

  • 2trueblue

    As members of the EU and having felt the strength of their force in our law I find it hard to believe that there is any freedom for us to prevent any part of our society to be free to say “NO’. it will become law and we will have no freedom in the matter.

  • Augustus

    “Conservatives who worry about the impact of equal marriage on their electoral chances should study opinion polls more closely. Equal marriage is a popular concept amongst the general public…”

    And what about all those people polled who don’t feel comfortable being seen as homophobes and bigots? How many of those tell pollsters they are okay with gay marriage even if they are not? And it isn’t ‘equal marriage’. They are not equal (or unequal either), they are simply different, and many of them have displayed incessant demands for their lifestyle which has offended probably more people than they themselves number in the community. Any reasonably conservative-minded government
    should have stuck to the existing civil rights which gay people already enjoy, and left the fundamental concept of marriage between a man and a woman undisturbed.

  • tanala
    • HooksLaw

      ‘some lawyers say…’ yes we’ve all heard that one.

      Vicars/priests can refuse to marry people even now.
      Is the church currently forced to marry people who are not practising Christians?
      Is the church forced to marry people previously divorced?

      Of course some may say the fact that a vicar might get a fee for marrying a divorcee might persuade him – I couldn’t possibly comment.

      • tanala

        The concern with a Bill of this nature and significance that is hastily forced through parliament will find its reality worked out through the courts for those that are on the opposite side of it. The wiser approach would be to allow more time for debate and consensus and to really understand what would come out of Strasbourg.

      • Tom Tom

        The Church of England is LEGALLY obliged to marry any Parishioner as a STATE Church