There have been many Liberal Democrat successes in this coalition government – for example, the £10k tax threshold, the pupil premium, fixed term parliaments – but these and others can be overturned or altered by subsequent governments. However, we are near a success on an issue which will be a permanent step – a genuine positive reform that the coalition government will always be remembered for.
I talk, of course, of same sex marriage, or gay marriage, which, at the time of writing, has passed the second reading in the Lords. Still some distance to go but it looks hopeful. Of course, a future government could overturn this and ban same sex marriages, but that is as unlikely as overturning the legislation which allowed women to vote.
We must of course give David Cameron a great deal of credit – no other Conservative party leader would have endorsed it to the extent that he has. Equally, had Cameron been leading a ‘Conservative-only’ government, nothing would have happened – he needed the Liberal Democrats’ liberal and reforming zeal, as well as the contribution of people like Lynne Featherstone, to get this legislation put together.
The subject is one of three topics on which there has been a substantial rebellion on the Conservative back benches – with the EU and Lords reform being the other topics. What is remarkable is that, generally speaking, it is the same people rebelling each time!! Do those who want to leave the EU also want to protect the Lords and oppose same sex marriage? What a co-incidence! Or is it, more likely, that it is the ‘awkward’ bunch of Tory MPs firmly opposed to the coalition government and to Cameron personally that just like causing trouble?
There have been some bizarre arguments made against the legislation. From Norman Tebbit’s ‘lesbian-queen-test-tube-baby’ scenario through to classroom plays and comparisons with the blind. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, who you would think would be concerned about the church being seen as irrelevant and out-of-touch, spoke of polygamy!
It is probably the fact that much of the opposition springs from those who simply do not like gay people! They would rather ignore their existence.
The only counter point which I can give the time of day to is those who argue that marriage should be for the procreation of children. I can respect that argument. However, it is a fact that half of all children in the UK are born outside of marriage. This would have been scandalous only a few decades ago but now no-one is too bothered. It is a fact that society has decided that marriage and childbirth are not linked, and so this argument is weakened.
My view is simple. I think marriage is a wonderful institution – I have been happily married for ten years. It is a public commitment by two people to love and take care of each other for the rest of their days. If more people were married, the world would be a happier place. Thus, it should be open and encouraged to all.
I am concerned by the recent trends away from marriage, and how fewer couples are tying the knot. Statistics show that married people live longer, healthier and happier lives. This legislation would be a positive move to encourage and show support for the institution. Far from weakening it, this will strengthen marriage - and hopefully bring it back into fashion.
In some ways, I agree with those Conservatives who say that marriage should be encouraged and recognised within the tax system. My preference would be to restore the marriage tax allowance by which married people start paying tax at a higher threshold. That way, all married couples would benefit whereas a transferable tax allowance only benefits a few.
I end by coining a phrase – what would Jesus do? If Jesus was here, what would he think? Would he welcome everyone into his church regardless of sexual orientation? Would he love everyone? Or would he firmly and resolutely deny gay people from showing their love and commitment to each other? I think we know the answer.