Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Marriage equality and a long afternoon of talking...

At the time of writing, the House of Commons is embarking on a long debate on marriage equality - we will have an afternoon-long gabfest after which the bill allowing gay couples to marry is expected to pass. It is about time this happened although the bill is not without its flaws, chiefly that Church of England vicars will not have the option of marrying gay couples.

Culture Secretary, Maria Miller - who almost was brilliant on this issue and then jumped the shark on the issue of religious freedom - responded bizarrely when Green MP Caroline Lucas rightly pointed out that the Church of England will not be given the option of performing same-sex marriages. Miller said the Church of England is not being treated differently. Except it is. And she also said that the church has "different duties from other faiths; they have a duty to marry people." This is a moot point given that marriage is an important part of every religion that has a presence in Britain.

It turns out there are plenty of angry vicars out there who'd like the option of being able to marry same-sex couples. As it stands, assuming the bill is passed tonight, the right to say "no" to same-sex marriages will exist for churches, but not the right to say "yes". It will be interesting to see if Labour party policy for the next election will involve plans to reverse this part of the legislation, or if adjustments are made at committee stage or in the House of Lords.

Also interesting are American critics who say that the government should stay the hell out of marriage altogether - intriguingly, this is seen as a fringe argument to the bigger debate here in Britain. It seems that British people are quite happy to sign a civil document on their wedding day, regardless of the venue.

In the meantime, there are still people sticking their heads over the parapet with the usual non-arguments. It seems that every MP who is planning to vote against is doing so because of the Bible. If ever there was a solid argument for the separation of church and state in Britain ASAP, that'd be it.

And then there are the other idiotic arguments...

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be legalising incest!" No, we won't. Incest is currently illegal regardless of the genitals of the participants. This will not change.

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be legalising paedophilia!" No, we won't. Homosexuality is not the same as being attracted to children. Also, this ignores the high rates of paedophilia involving adults and children of the opposite sex.

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be letting people marry their pets!" No, we won't. This is a disturbing leap of logic and it equates animals who can't sign legal contracts with consenting adults who can. See also, "Next we'll be letting people marry toasters!"

"But the Oxford English dictionary defines marriage as being between a man and woman!" And dictionaries are not set in stone. This is why dictionaries are constantly being revised as use of language evolves along with society. If this is your best argument against marriage equality, you need a new dictionary. See also, "But the Bible says it's wrong."

"Teachers will be forced to promote gay marriage!" No, they won't. There is a difference between explaining what is legal in this country to school students of an appropriate age and actively campaigning for people to marry someone of the same sex. Anyone who tries this argument on fails to understand human sexuality.

"But what about fixing the economy? Why do we care about gay people getting married?" Uh, yeah, firstly tell that to any gay person who wants to get married and would like to see this last hurdle of discrimination fall. It's not about gay supremacy, it's about equality. Also, if our elected representatives are incapable of dealing with multiple issues, they are probably too stupid to be members of Parliament.

"Allowing gays to marry means straight people will be less likely to marry!" Say what? Giving someone else the right to marry will make me less likely to exercise that right? And I guess if they let women drive in Saudi, less men will learn to drive?

And now it is time to get the popcorn and see what unfolds this afternoon before the bill's inevitable passing at around 7pm tonight. A staggering 71 MPs want to speak on the bill so speaker John Bercow is allowing a maximum of four minutes each. It promises to be a long afternoon where enough hot air will be produced to end winter fuel poverty. But hopefully at the end of today, we can proudly say: "Yes. We live in a country where being gay is no impediment to getting married."

UPDATES (most recent at the bottom)

- Nadine Dorries (the whipless Conservative) has happened again. Without a blush, she has said that same-sex marriage does not require faithfulness and thus it is meaningless. She is labouring under the misapprehension that vows of faithfulness in heterosexual marriages are always effective... Ahem. As you were, Nadine...

- Jim Shannon (Conservative) is speaking against the bill because "the government should leave faith groups free from persecution." Ironic, given the only faith group who is actually being persecuted for their beliefs on this one is the group of Church of England vicars who want to be free to conduct same-sex marriages.

- Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Lib-Dems (who we've all heard of, right?) wants more time to be set aside for debating this bill. Superb!

- Sir Roger Gale (Conservative) made absolutely no sense with his incest analogy. None. At all. Not a bit.

- Craig Whittaker (Conservative) demonstrates for all the world to see that he fails to grasp that all marriages are first and foremost a civil contract and the religious bit is a matter of choice for individual couples.

- Labour MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms says he will vote against the bill because marriage revolves around children. He is given the smackdown very nicely by fellow Labour MP for West Ham, Lyn Brown who points out that he was at her wedding which took place after her childbearing years were over. Brown asked her colleague if her marriage is invalid. Timms then goes on to score a spectacularly asinine own goal by saying he was referring to church teaching from hundreds of years ago. Which is clearly so relevant to a debate that is happening in 2013. He is referring to an era when rape in marriage was still legal.

- Welsh Conservative Cheryl Gillam echoes Jim Shannon's idiocy on religious freedom...

- Jonathan Reynolds (Labour) and Stephen Williams (Lib-Dem) both talk sense. Hurrah!

- Conservative Mike Freer also talking sense and rightly calling out those who say same-sex marriage makes them feel sick.

- Labour MP Michael McCann joins Cheryl Gillam and Jim Shannon in the religious freedom chamber of buffoonery.

- Peter Bone would like a referendum on marriage equality added to the 2017 referendum on Britain's EU membership. Here's hoping that by then, this whole debate will seem quaint. And that politicians will quit saying "Let's have a referendum!" every five minutes.

- Peter Bone plumbs new depths when he says that today is the saddest day of his career as an MP. So not when cuts were made to the NHS or tuition fees put a university education out of reach for many or whenever Michael Gove has said anything about schools...

- And Sir Gerald Howarth adds to the growing crowd whose main objection to marriage equality is "I don't like it because the Bible says so!"

- John Glen, Conservative MP for Salisbury, says he has "tried hard" to reconcile himself to the gay marriage laws, but he cannot. He does know that if the bill becomes law, he doesn't have to marry a man, right?

He goes on to say he has "stood up to homophobic bullying" but "redefining marriage is the wrong way to tackle prejudice." I see. So removing a form of prejudice won't help reduce prejudice? Good to know!

- Fiona Bruce, a Conservative MP for Congelton, reduces the equal marriage issue down to very specific minutiae by speaking out on behalf of Christian guesthouse owners who are registered to hold civil ceremonies being forced to hold same-sex marriages. Here's the thing, Fiona - when you sign up to hold civil ceremonies at your guesthouse, you are signing up to hold them regardless of the law.

- David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, says redefining marriage to include gay couples would downgrade marriage. A law that would create more married people would downgrade marriage? Dave, marriage isn't the same as an exclusive club.

And like Peter Bone, Burrowes is "sad" about letting gay people get married. I'm sad about the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital, but hey, clearly I'm an emotional cripple.

- Stewart Jackson, a Conservative MP, reverts to Daily Mail-speak in lieu of an actual argument when he says that marriage is being "smashed at the altar of political correctness." He then says he is "personally offended that David Lammy, a Labour MP, used civil rights campaigner Rose Parks to justify the argument that gay and black rights are similar."

Stewart, here's a fun game for you. Say out loud: "I oppose black people getting married." And then say out loud: "I oppose gay people getting married." And then ask yourself whether one is more offensive than the other and, if you seriously believe the answer to that question is yes, ask yourself why.

- David Simpson, a DUP MP, actually uses the pathetic "it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden" argument to oppose marriage equality. Wow. He has actually used an ancient allegory that also tries to convince us God made the world in a week, that women were made from a bloke's rib, and a snake talked two naked people into eating an apple and thus we are all evil sinners.

Simpson also says that marriage is a matter for God, not government, a popular argument against marriage equality put forward by many American conservatives. But in this context, in Britain, it seems weird and out of place.

- Sarah Wollaston and Stuart Andrew, both Tory MPs, speak in favour of the bill and restore some hope for humanity after much idiocy this afternoon. Wollaston, a self-described "non-believer", has received much "hateful" mail suggesting gay people need treatment. She eloquently speaks out, saying: "Homosexuality is not forbidden love and it is time this House recognised that. And that you cannot be a little bit equal."

At last! Some secular sanity!

Stuart Andrew, an openly gay MP, says he has been coming to terms with his sexuality and his faiTh for many years and says he would like to "live in a society that does not discriminate. But I do want to secure personal choice for marriage as well as religious freedom." A moving speech indeed.

- An another sanity failure, this time from Northern Ireland's Ian Paisley Jr, who says same-sex marriage is "against the nature of life and is not close to being on par with marriage between a man and a woman." He also goes on to say marriage is "not defined by love" but hastens to add that he loves his wife. Awkward...

Nice one, Ian! Let's go back to the days when marriage was merely a transaction, or something kings and queens used to do to secure power and conquer other countries. Yay, traditional marriage!

- Commonsense from Tory MP for Battersea Jane Ellison as she says religious people do not own marriage. Finally, someone who understands history and isn't in the business of bothering God!

- And, kapow! Andrew Selous, Tory MP for South West Bedfordshire, starts clutching his pearls over "the collapse of family life." Clearly, it's not all those heterosexual couples breaking up that harm the children. Oh no, it is gay couples causing all this to happen!

Selous thinks he is being dead clever by pointing out that David Cameron once said Britain is a "Christian country."

Yes, Andrew, Church of England is that state religion, but it does not hold sway over the population in the same way, say, Islam does in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. This is a country with freedom of religion, which not only gives non-Christian faiths the right to establish themselves here, but also guarantees freedom from religion for those who are not interested. Church attendance is not compulsory, there is no compulsion to state your religion on government forms or human resources forms, as is the case in the United Arab Emirates (just ask a former colleague of mine who wrote "atheist" on a form for HR...).

We can pretty much agree on certain items in the 10 commandments, such as the one about not killing and the one about not stealing, because they are dick things to do. It doesn't mean we all need to believe there is one God and if any of us want to worship false idols we can. Also, being a "Christian country" has not resulted in the "thou shalt not commit adultery" commandment being followed fanatically, especially by certain MPs.

- Oh joy. Matthew Offord, a Tory MP for Hendon, opposes the bill because polygamy and bigamy are potential future implications. Can he provide any evidence that there is a groundswell of support for legalising polygamous and bigamous marriages in Britain? I am going to go out on a limb and say no.

- Thank you Crispin Blunt, an openly gay Tory MP for Reigate, for welcoming the bill and being personally grateful to everyone who has campaigned for gay rights over the decades. So glad to live in a country where this can be said openly in parliament without fear. Thank you also to Gavin Barwell, another Conservative supporter of the bill, for saying that marriage equality will not undermine marriage.

- And with the vote now less than an hour away, three more Tory MPs, John Howell, Ben Gummer and Kris Hopkins, have spoken in favour of the bill.

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for South Coast, however, is opposed. She says: "People who work for councils will not be able to discriminate." Huh? People who work for councils are already barred from being discriminatory. She has also started pushing the family-procreation barrow. She clearly hasn't noticed that gay people come from families and can already be parents by a number of different means.

Bizarrely, although in keeping with other MPs who have seen fit to use ancient examples despite it being 2013, Therese Coffey tweeted this: "It was Henry VIII who criminalised homosexuality by law in 1533. Catholic Queen Mary repealed it. Elizabeth I reintroduced it."

What is her point? That she wishes more modern day Catholics were like Bloody Mary? That she supports a separation of church and state in Britain given Henry VIII's apparent homophobia? I have no idea but I'd love for her to get in touch and enlighten me on her weird little history lesson.

Good grief, can we just vote on this already? The idiocy levels are starting to go nuclear.

- Is there anything more mealy-mouthed than the abstentions? MPs cannot formally abstain but can vote for both sides to show they are sitting on the fence. Such as Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, who is voting "yes" to show she supports gay rights but also "no" because the thinks the legislation is ill-considered (on the quadruple lock for the Church of England, she would be right...) but also because the government does not have a mandate for it. I'm pretty sure they don't have a mandate for systematically privatising the NHS by stealth either, but hey ho...

- Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, is opposed to the bill. Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, is in favour and says the House is "on a journey".

- It's a rare day that I am moved by multiple Tories but my hat is off to Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South, for sharing his poignant coming-out story.

"I often recall the day a few years ago when I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents that I was gay. I began the conversation with the line, 'You know, I'm never going to be able to marry.' I used that form of words just as a way of broaching an awkward conversation and I didn't really think much of it at the time. But I often reflect on them and it makes me very sad that for so long that was a factually correct statement."

- Kate Green, shadow equalities minister, reminds the House that marriage is not just about procreation. Thank you, Kate! She adds that what children need most is "stability and love". The good news is that gay parents are just as able to provide this as heterosexual ones.


- PASSED WITH 400 VOTES! Now for the House of Lords to do the right thing...

British readers, check here to see how your MP voted.

And behold! The Merciless Prism of Equality! This wins the internet.

Image courtesy of www.kozzi.com

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