This evening I voted against the second reading of the same-sex marriage bill. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken. As a life-long liberal and a committed Catholic I spent many months reflecting on this issue in the lead up to the vote. I wanted to explain to people why I took this step.
Unfortunately, this will not be a very good explanation...
I have previously taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004 (which I was very proud to do), voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. I feel strongly about these issues and have devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years.
Some of by best friends are gay, hmm?
As will become apparent through this, Teather is the same kind of gay activist as most right wingers are charitable to the poor. They might give to organisations trying to save lives in war torn countries, but if any of those people try to claim asylum here then they can fuck right off. Teather sees a threat to her faith; she's happy to see gay people free from persecution...they just can't be allowed to join her club. That would be too much.
This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that nothing about voting yes would change how much gay people are ostracised from her club anyway.
However, changing the definition of marriage for me raises other more complex issues.
I just want to say that the definition of marriage changes in no way to alter how marriage exists for those already married or wishing to get married. All it does is "extend the franchise", so how exactly this is a "complex" issue is beyond me. Complex if you are superimposing your own beliefs in to something that is actually nothing to do with your beliefs, perhaps.
I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important.
And so starts pretty much every "I'm trying to be liberal" argument, and each time basically points a gun at their own feet.
We know that permanent stable loving relationships between parents are very important for children.
Alright...I think we can all see where this is going...
Such relationships make it much easier to offer the kind of consistent loving parenting that enables children to grow into healthy happy adults able to play their part in society. I recognise that this kind of stability can exist outside of marriage, but the act of giving and receiving vows in front of others and making a commitment for life is an aid to stability.
This is, at best, complete nonsense. If marriage in itself was an aid to stability (though what Teather is talking about here is a wedding, not marriage, which does not in itself have to be religious...nor does it even have to be a marriage) then there wouldn't be an increase in the rate of divorce as time has gone on. As more people get married, less people should get divorced, not vice versa.
It is precisely the reason that marriage has formed the basis of family life for thousands of years, and is the reason that the state has historically tried to encourage it.
Bollocks. Marriage (in the way Teather talks about it) was first intervened in by the state in 1753, and this was not for "family" reasons. The main reason was to protect the revenue stream that marriages provided, and protect the underaged from being effectively traded in to marriage, by culling "clandestine marriages". It did nothing to promote the stability of families for Quakers or Jews because they weren't part of the act.
in 1836, over 80 years later, this was amended. To promote family life? No, to recognise diversity of religion...or more specifically to protect non-Anglicans from having no legal recourse against spouses that simply left them. Strengthening families? Only through strengthening the barriers to get out of them, it would seem. This is also when the arguments for equality started to get opposed by bigots that sought to put their own faith ahead of the rights of others.
"Not solemnized by the church of England, may be celebrated without entering into a consecrated building, may be contracted by anybody, and will be equally valid, whether it takes place in the house of God, or in the house of a registering clerk, one of the lowest functionaries of the state. The parties may take one another for better and for worse, without calling God to witness their plighted troth" - Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter.
Oh dear me, these philistines that believe their commitment to marriage, through other religious institutions or otherwise, is as great and good as the holy (Anglican) Catholic version!
Each episode in the way that the state "promotes" family life through marriage has simply been to either extend the franchise or remove the barriers, be it through allowing marriages that will be recognised by British Law in foreign countries, or increasing the type of premises that can be used, etc. etc.
Long (but not as long as 1000s of years) story short...the way the state has involved itself has not been to encourage family life, not in any explicit sense. To encourage marriages to take place under the legal framework of the UK rather than outside that framework...sure.
If we want to go back 1000s of years, as a "state", to the recognised beginning of a state run enterprise in marriage, then that would of course be Henry VIII and his various moves to provide himself the ability to get "divorced" without the religious baggage. Indeed at this stage he didn't take control out of any love of family. Sure, he wanted a son, but he had two girls before that. The state, the church and the king cared little for "family stability" with regards to his daughters, changing the fundamental constitution of the country to rid himself of his first child's mother, and eventually beheading the second.
I also recognise that not all couples who get married have children for a variety of reasons, and similarly that many children are now born outside of marriage.
But that clearly you think those children are receiving lesser "love" than their married-parent counterparts
My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether.
I want you to remember that she's said this, because it will be important later.
I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift.
Like John Pugh before her, Sarah Teather here seeks to protect the future from us interfering lot. Thank god that people like Sarah here are there to ensure that as cultural changes happen, institutions are forced to remain the same so that future generations may not get an accurate idea of how culture has changed!
But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else's business.
That's because the definition of marriage is exactly that. The vows that people take in religious ceremonies are about partnership and love. Those championing same-sex marriages aren't taking anything away from what marriage is, they're just echoing it.
Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, "if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?")
So, first... citation needed. If Sarah Teather has a definition stashed away somewhere that links the state involvement with marriage to the encouragement and promotion of family life, I'm sure we'd all love to see it.
Second: This is the WORST reason to try to stop legislation. I'm sorry, you're worried that people will subscribe to marriage in a way that differs from your view, so you wish to put road blocks in the way of that view taking hold?! How is that, in any world, a liberal stance to take? You don't want something to become irrelevant, so you intend to keep things legally irrelevant for a section of society instead?
Better that they're forced to find it irrelevant as standard, than to come to that conclusion on their own, eh?
Third, CITATION NEEDED! "Changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable"? I would LOVE to see a link between people marrying purely for love and commitment and divorce levels instead of, say, people marrying through family pressure and religious fear combined with a change in attitudes to sexual intercourse.
Seriously, if you have something that shows that people entering in to a legal partnership for private reasons of love are more and more likely to have unstable family lives, put it out there.
If I felt that the current legal framework left gay couples unprotected, I would be much more inclined to support the proposed legislation.
"Look, you already have it pretty good, why do you need to even have equality?"
Basically, I think David Lammy slamdunked this type of bullshit argument that is, quite frankly, insulting...
"Let me speak frankly. “Separate but equal” is a fraud. Separate but equal is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. Separate but equal is the motif that determined that black and white could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. Separate but equal are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers" - David Lammy MP
If you cannot see when you write a statement like the one above about how you are promoting a two teir society, as a fucking liberal, you should be ashamed.
However, the civil partnerships legislation, which I voted for in my first parliament, equalised relationships between same-sex couples before the law, providing the same protections as offered to heterosexual married couples.
And so the goalposts shift. Remember the statement I asked you to remember above? Right. So initially Sarah wants marriage to be all about married life, the promotion of the family unit. So here Sarah is creating an interesting paradox for herself.
If marriage is required to have the most stable family life, then everyone should aspire to be married. If civil partnerships are as good as marriage, then we should help encourage the most stable family life by calling it what it is...a marriage. But Sarah doesn't want to do this, and so she...mustn't support the strength of family life.
I felt strongly that it was right to support civil partnerships to ensure that gay people in committed long term relationships are not discriminated against financially and legally and can take part in decisions about their partner's health care. Virtually no new protections are offered to same-sex couples on the basis of this legislation on marriage, and any that are could easily be dealt with by amending civil partnership legislation.
"If gay couples have a problem, let's sort it out, but not in a way that threatens my perception of my faith, mmkay?"
If the new legislation doesn't offer anything much different aside from a change to the legal definition of marriage (that may or may not technically exist in law), and offers new protections that Sarah would support, then what reason at all is there to stand against it?
The argument in favour of same-sex marriage has mostly centred on rights.
Sure, it's part of the strongest sounding arguments. Rights for gay couples to be legally recognised as exact equals to hetero-couples, rights for religious institutions to perform same sex marriages if they wish to do so. It doesn't appear you're going to touch on the other religious institution's rights that you've tried to trample on today, nor the other wider reasons about culture or society. I guess it's easier to pretend that the tally if one libertarian view versus one socially liberal one and to just write it off as a draw.
But this isn't the only liberal philosophical perspective on the legislation. The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state's role.
You seemed pretty sure above, the state has to promote a stable family life as much as possible, right?
If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children's welfare.
Ok...there better be something pretty damn mindblowing to change this from supporting the extension of marriage to opposing it...
Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation.
Yet this isn't what gay couples are fighting for...I guess we've finished building our strawman now?
But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.
Actually, with purpose also to religious institutions that wish to be able to legally and religiously marry same sex couples but are currently being denied that right, but hey let's not let small fry religions like the jewish religion get in the way of this Catholic Crusade.
But let's just reverse things a second. Is the state regulating love and commitment here? They are not, they are bringing in line the regulations for civil partnerships to be recognised as a defined marriage, so it is, like in 2004, about affording same sex couples the same rights as hetero-couples on the same level. It is not just about private love and commitment.
I have found this a difficult decision because of my work previously on gay rights issues, and my judgment is finely balanced.
"Every bone in my body tells me there is no reason to oppose this, but my faith tells me I must...argh...decisions decisions."
I recognise that others may reflect deeply on these issues and come to a different view, in good faith. But it is my view that where the extra protections offered to same-sex couples are marginal, and where the potential negatives to society over a period of time may be more considerable, I am unable to support the bill.
And here we are with the negatives, this supposed peril that by allowing people to continue not as civil partners, but married partners, who have chosen to do this because of love and commitment, will cause widespread family breakdown in the UK. Citation needed indeed.
What Sarah is saying here is that she couldn't give a flying fuck if a homosexual couple have a "marriage" breakdown if it's not called a marriage. This doesn't affect family stability enough it seems. Suddenly call it a marriage and it's completely different though. The same rights and responsibilities with a different name CHANGE THE WHOLE GAME. Society will suddenly be negatively affected in a way they weren't by identical actions under a separate moniker.
Although the vote today was subject to a free, unwhipped vote, I understand that my views place me out of step with most of my liberal democrat colleagues and party members. I have not often found myself out of step with party members over the last twenty years. But one of the things that always impresses me about our party is that we are liberal enough to accept that others may hold different views. Our party members hold strong views, but recognise and cherish the space for difference. I am proud of that.
I hope that no Liberal Democrat recognises this difference. I hope that the Lib Dems tend to be tolerant of their other members and MPs views because they are, at least, considered views with some basis in logic and reason. I hope that no-one lets this kind of nonsense pass as an "acceptable" view in a liberal society. That's not to say that Sarah can't have it, she's free to think what she wishes, but she's not free to pretend that the view is one of merit or substance.
The above from Sarah is pure and unadulterated prejudice, sprinkled with as many references as possible to say "I love the gays really!" while at the same time underhandedly insulting them.
Let's make no mistake here, she has said that if the world operated in a parallel universe where todays vote was a no, and same sex marriage never made it in to law, society would not suffer the dreadful, elusively "negatives" that are to come over time. Now, however, we are to lock up our doors, for the gaypocalypse is coming. She wants people to enter in to loving relationships as they are better for families, but also holds the contradictory belief that those in loving relationships are becoming more and more unstable family units. She thinks the world is changing, but doesn't want to do anything that will facilitate that change for fear of how people might think differently then than she does now.
How very, utterly, liberal.