After giving her statement to the House of Commons on the government’s plans for gay marriage, Maria Miller held a meeting with Tory MPs. I understand that the meeting was a question-and-answer session designed to help reassure Tories about the ‘quadruple lock’.
It was well-attended, although apparently the Secretary of State was around 25 minutes late, which meant Peter Bone left early to make another appointment. This was immediately interpreted as a walkout in protest from Bone, who is one of the more vocal opponents of the legislation. I spoke to Bone this evening, who said ‘I wasn’t storming out: it was a private Q&A meeting with Maria Miller who was 25 minutes late’.
But even though he didn’t storm out, Bone is still not happy or reassured by today’s announcements. He says:
‘I thought the consultation was gerrymandered: they discounted the petition against gay marriage. Stalin would have been very proud of that state of affairs.’
There are some Tory MPs poring over today’s announcement to work out whether they now have the confidence to back the legislation in the light of the quadruple lock to protect those religious institutions that object. But one MP who is not convinced by the repeated assurances offered by Miller is Mark Pritchard, who continues to believe that churches could be taken through the courts and forced to conduct gay ceremonies. He says:
‘My view is that although the Prime Minister is well meaning in the safeguards that he says have been provided, these are unlikely to stand up to legal test. It will be up to the courts, not politicians to decide the future of same sex marriages in mosques, temples, synagogues and churches.
‘It is highly likely that a gay group against gay marriage will emerge over the coming months.’
Similarly, Stewart Jackson is concerned that the Catholic Church, which is not protected by the lock, could fall foul of the new legislation.
While Miller was, as I said earlier, very respectful in the way she answered questions from Chris Bryant to Matthew Offord, there is a hope that once this legislation has passed and certain Tories have expressed their view in a free vote, that all will be forgiven and forgotten. Brian Binley (of chambermaid and caretaker fame) doesn’t agree. He has added fuel to the row by releasing an angry letter to the Prime Minister in which he says ‘I find it difficult to remember a time when the party’s leader in government failed consistently to chime with the natural instincts of our supporters’. You can read the letter in full here, but in summary, it builds on the theme of all of Binley’s previous angry verdicts on the Prime Minister.
This isn’t going to stop the legislation going through, but it does mean that the Prime Minister has got work to do to give his backbenchers confidence that he is on their side. Perhaps a little tax break for married couples wouldn’t go amiss…