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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

First reactions on SSM Bill


A sad day for civilisation. This afternoon and evening, in between various duties, I was able to watch the debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for snatches of a few minutes at a time. Tweets from @spucprolife and other good tweeps were also very helpful. Every time I got a chance to look at Parliament TV, I heard excellent speeches from MPs opposed to same-sex "marriage" and it is clear that the general pattern of their correspondence was to receive a sackload of mail against the bill and only a few letters in favour, some of those characterised by abuse.

Edward Leigh has been a staunch opponent of the bill and his speech was very good. MPs were limited to four minutes: although it was wrong of the Government to bypass pre-legislative scrutiny and to push through the timetable motion, the time-limit for speeches meant that they gave an opportunity for a succinct case to be made - or in some instances, for a pointless but mercifully short ramble about equality, failing to address any of the key issues in the debate.

Here is just a part of Edward Leigh's speech, together with an intervention from Chris Bryant, and a pertinent riposte from Mr Leigh:
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con):
We should indeed treat one another with tolerance and treat everybody’s sexuality with understanding, but the fundamental question we are deciding today is whether English law should declare for the first time that two people of the same sex can marry.

Parliament is sovereign—we can vote for what we want—but we must be very careful that law and reality do not conflict. In 1648, the Earl of Pembroke, in seeking to make the point that Parliament is sovereign, said that Parliament can do anything but make a man a woman or a woman a man. Of course, in 2004, we did exactly that with the Gender Recognition Act. We are now proposing to make equally stark changes to the essence of marriage. During the civil partnership debates, I was given solemn assurances on the Floor of the House, including by some sitting on the Opposition Benches now, that the Civil Partnership Act would not lead to full same-sex marriage.

Chris Bryant
rose—

Mr Leigh:
I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman who gave those assurances to me.

Chris Bryant:
Assurances from me do not necessarily determine what happens in Parliament in future. Several hon. Members have raised what I said in that debate. At that time, I believed that civil partnership was the be-all and end-all of the story. I have since entered a civil partnership and believe that the world has moved on. Many Conservative Members who voted against civil partnerships know that Britain’s mind has changed and want to reflect that in a change of the law.

Mr Leigh:
The worry some of us have is that the world, in the hon. Gentleman’s mind, could move on again, and that many of the assurances we are being given may not count for very much.
Quite so.

You can read the debate now at Hansard (it is not all there as of the time of posting, but I am impressed by the speed with which they have posted so much already.) The upshot is that the second reading was passed by 400-175, but commenters have immediately picked up on the fact that more than half of the conservative MPs who voted were in the Noes lobby. There were significant rebellions against the the whipped programme motion, as well as the money resolution and the carry-over motion. Political commentators are seeing this as a sign of a deep-seated rebellion and disaffection with David Cameron.

Yes, David Cameron, the architect of all this; where was he? Not in the chamber: he was very busy with some meetings, apparently.

There will still be much to do in the coming days, so be alert for guidance on how we can continue the campaign - we'll need to be writing to some peers soon enough.
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