X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Coffee House

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’.

[Alt-Text]


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.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close