David Cameron is planning to fast-track legislation for gay civil marriage through parliament, but today’s Daily Mail underlines that his own MPs are dragging their feet over the legislation. The paper reports that at least 118 Tory MPs have expressed their opposition to the plans in letters to constituents or interviews with journalists, and they’re not just the usual suspects that Nick Clegg might accidentally label ‘bigots’. They include openly gay Conor Burns, who told his local newspaper that ‘I marvel at why we’re bringing this forward. There is no clamour for this at all within the gay community’. Wirral West MP and minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, holds similar views, telling a constituent in a letter that she’s ‘concerned that re-defining marriage is unnecessary given the established legal rights’.
There are other Conservative MPs who are completely torn about the issue. I know of one who has asked his staff – one an evangelical Christian opposed to gay marriage and the other an agnostic in favour – to write briefings from their own perspectives to help him make up his mind.
Liam Fox hit the nail on the head at the Conservative party conference when he was pressed at a fringe event by a group of vehement campaigners from the Church Society to persuade the PM to drop any reference to gay marriage in his conference speech. Those asking the questions appeared to think Fox was as opposed to the legislation as they, but when it came to his answers, he shrugged as he said he didn’t actually hold a strong view either way, but that he wished there was a more respectful debate on the issue from both sides.
This legislation was borne out of the PM’s desire to detoxify his party rather than because of a deluge of demands from the gay community: Stonewall itself suffered from bitter internal splits over whether to campaign for gay marriage. But inevitably the push to remove the ban on same-sex marriages has polarised the issue and led to a war of words between those who hold a firm view, with a large group of ambivalents caught in the crossfire.
The problem for the Tories is that this proposed legislation has brought those firmly opposed to gay marriage such as Peter Bone – who said he wanted to ‘throw up’ when listening to Cameron’s speech endorsing the change – to the fore, which doesn’t exactly help the grand aim of detoxifying the party.