In September, it was reported that The Labour Party was likely to impose a three-line whip on members when it came to the vote on giving gay couples equal marriage rights. Fast forward a couple of months, and it seems this was an empty promise from Ed Miliband, as it is believed the vote will now be a “free vote” for members – meaning that members who oppose the measure can vote against it without any disciplinary action from the whip.
Surely not, I hear you ask? Surely not in The Labour Party? Surely there can’t be MPs who disagree with equal marriage when they represent a party which stands on a platform for equality? Right? Wrong. There are members of The Labour Party, in Parliament, opposing a measure which grants gay couples the same rights in marriage – in love – as their heterosexual counterparts.
Let’s name and shame them. Joe Benton. Jim Dobbin. Brian Donohoe. Mary Glindon. Roger Godsiff. Paul Murphy. Stephen Pound. Austin Mitchell. AND THERE ARE MORE coming out of the woodwork. All of these Members of Parliament oppose the right for me to marry someone of the same gender. In fact, Austin Mitchell – who doesn’t have the best track record, it has to be say – goes further, tweeting to say that “Gay marriage is neither urgent nor important” Aside from the fact that people thought the same about giving women the vote, equal marriage is important. It is about gay couples being able to say “I love you and I want to be with you forever” and having that love recognised by law.
I refuse to ever campaign again for any Member of Parliament who votes against equal marriage. End of.
Our Members of Parliament should be united in their position on the proposals which, on the whole, are positive. That is, if you ignore Maria Miller’s “the bill will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples” comments. In a bill which is extending equality, writing discrimination into it is wrong. All religious institutions should perform equal marriage where their ministers support it – it shouldn’t be illegal.
It should be said – and as Owen Jones pointed out – “our record on pushing through LGBT equality laws has been exemplary”. We repealed Section 28. We introduced civil partnerships. We are, minus a few, a party which is dedicated to real equality. What about the Tories? The coalition has introduced this bill, but don’t forget that it was the Tories who introduced Section 28. They were split on civil partnerships, and they are split on equal marriage, with more than 100 Conservative MPs said to be voting against the plans.
But, on this occasion, I have to agree with Mark Ferguson. It has taken guts for Cameron to get this bill to where it is today, and yet, our own leader seems to pay only lip service to supporting equality fully. Where is your backbone, Ed?
This vote is not one of conscience. It is one of principle. By not imposing a whip on our MPs, we are not presenting ourselves as the party of real equality. The voices of homophobes is louder than the voice of everyone else. It sends a message that we are allowing people like Austin Mitchell to speak for our party. And Austin Mitchell does not speak for me. He does not speak for my Labour Party.