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Ministerial aide could defy whip on gay marriage vote

4 February 2013

3:38 PM

4 February 2013

3:38 PM

Downing Street is very keen to emphasise that Tory MPs who vote against the second reading of the gay marriage bill tomorrow are not ‘rebels’. This is a free vote, and MPs can vote with their conscience. But this ignores the fact that there will be a rebellion tomorrow: not on the second reading, but on the programme motion.

I understand that at least one ministerial aide is likely to rebel against the three-line whip on this motion, which sets out how the Bill will proceed through the Commons. Other MPs who oppose the bill are also expected to defy the whip, although not in the same numbers as will vote against second reading, and without any greater effect as Labour is also whipping its MPs to support the motion. I’ve spoken to David Burrowes, PPS to Owen Paterson, who says he is unlikely to support it:

‘The precedent for this is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which was split between committee and committee of the whole house. Even Gordon Brown recognised that a free vote on conscience issues should be examined by the whole house.

‘But we are where we are. There will be a number who will not be supporting the government’s programme motion. But I do not think we will have the same numbers as on the second reading. I am not likely to be supporting the programme motion.’


As PPS, Burrowes cannot vote against the government without consequences, although he seems happy to wait and see what happens, rather than resigning in advance of his rebellion. He also hopes to sit on the Bill committee scrutinising the legislation line-by-line.

The make-up of that committee will be a test for the whips in both Conservative and Labour parties. It would clearly be expedient to staff the committee entirely with pro-equal marriage MPs, but this would be extremely difficult on a conscience issue.

Last week when the whips announced that the programme motion would have a three-line whip on it, there was some confusion in the party, with MPs initially fearing the whole bill would be whipped. I understand that within 45 minutes, another clarification appeared in MPs’ inboxes from the whip’s office to emphasise that second reading would remain a free vote.

P.S. If Burrowes does indeed rebel and face the usual consequences for doing so – whether by abstaining or actively voting against – he will be the third PPS to Owen Paterson to leave the government as a result of a rebellion: Stewart Jackson and Conor Burns being his predecessors.

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Show comments
  • FrankS

    Surely you’re supposed to illustrate pieces like this with a picture of a gay wedding cake decoration?

  • Daniel Maris

    I am just amazed how few Conservatives are prepared to support a conservative view of marriage.

    Personally I am not dogmatic on the issue. If I could be assured it would stop at gay marriage I wouldn’t be that fussed, since it wouldn’t affect the fundamental nature of

    heterosexual monogamous marriage, in relation to procreation.

    But the fear I have is that this could well lead to a complete unravelling of the concept of monogamous marriage. If a “personal satisfaction” justification gets a grip on the concept of marriage, then there seems no reason to deny polygamous marriage.

    • Span Ows

      I agree. Not only polygamous marriage, what about marrying your pet?

  • David Lindsay

    At least a third of Conservatives voting against will be doing so in order to placate their constituency parties.

    At least a third of Labourites voting in favour will be doing so in order to placate … well, whom, exactly?

    And the Bill itself will never reach Third Reading. Nor will this issue itself ever again be revived by any Government.

    On the contrary, any future Government will do what they all do best to any inconvenient backbench initiative: ensure that it dies of sheer neglect.

    • FrankS

      Backbench initiative? Surely it’s CMD’s own personal crusade.

      • David Lindsay

        This is. Ever trying to bring it back, on the the other hand.

  • HooksLaw

    So lets get this right … there is no whip on gay marriage vote, but someone may defy it?
    This is too existential for me. But nice headline anyway.

    • Daniel Maris

      I think we are talking about a procedural rebellion – rebelling against the whip as to how the government’s business has been ordered (rather than the free vote on the substantive issue).

  • Smithersjones2013

    pro-equal marriage MPs

    When there is an equal marriage bill on the table then I’m sure that there will be ‘pro-equal marriage’ MPs but sadly this legislation does not propose equal marriage rights

    Gay couples can choose between civil partnerships or marriage. Heterosexual couples cannot.

    Heterosexual couples have to consummate their marriages. Gay couples do not.

    Heterosexual married people can sue for divorce on the basis of one partner’s infidelity. Gay couples cannot.

    Given the fundamental differences highlighted there is nothing equal about what is proposed.

    I suspect that this situation has arisen because the associated social implications and legal difficulties are virtually insurmountable and Cameron has either bottled it or is so desperate for a clauseIV moment he doesn’t care that the bill he is proposing is garbage!.

    • Grrr8

      Better to move to a US system of no-fault divorces and marriage as a civil contract between any consenting adults who want it. Also time to dis-establish the CoE. That legislation would be honest and bring about real change.

  • NiceTeaParty

    FRANCIS: Yeah. I think Judith’s point of view is very valid, Reg, provided the Movement never forgets that it is the inalienable right of every man–

    STAN: Or woman.

    FRANCIS: Or woman… to rid himself–

    STAN: Or herself.

    FRANCIS: Or herself.

    REG: Agreed.

    FRANCIS: Thank you, brother.

    STAN: Or sister.

    FRANCIS: Or sister. Where was I?

    REG: I think you’d finished.

    FRANCIS: Oh. Right.

    REG: Furthermore, it is the birthright of every man–

    STAN: Or woman.

    REG: Why don’t you shut up about women, Stan. You’re putting us off.

    STAN: Women have a perfect right to play a part in our movement, Reg.

    FRANCIS: Why are you always on about women, Stan?

    STAN: I want to be one.

    REG: What?

    STAN: I want to be a woman. From now on, I want you all to call me ‘Loretta’.

    REG: What?!

    LORETTA: It’s my right as a man.

    JUDITH: Well, why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?

    LORETTA: I want to have babies.

    REG: You want to have babies?!

    LORETTA: It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.

    REG: But… you can’t have babies.

    LORETTA: Don’t you oppress me.

    REG: I’m not oppressing you, Stan. You haven’t got a womb! Where’s the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!

    LORETTA: (crying)

    JUDITH: Here! I– I’ve got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the right to have babies.

    FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.

    REG: What’s the point?

    FRANCIS: What?

    REG: What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?!

    FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.

    REG: Symbolic of his struggle against reality

    • Russell

      Wouldn’t introducing an additional marriage tax allowance be against my human rights as a single person. Now what was the number of the equalities commissioner or the ECHR?

      • Ian Walker

        But there is nothing stopping you getting married, so you are not being treated unequally.

        • Mark Myword

          Yes there is – if you are gay.

        • Russell

          If two non-religious (single) people are being taxed at a higher rate than two people who decide to get married, I am being discriminated against and not being treated equally as a single person. Can’t you see the irony in all this equality bulls**t.

    • HooksLaw

      A struggle against reality you say. You have clearly lost that one.