Can you remember what you did on the 5th of February 2013? Well, whatever it was, simultaneously in the buzzing, suited heart of the Commons chamber, nestled within Westminster’s bones, history was changing, by 400 votes to 175 to be precise.
The Gay Marriage Bill, passing its reading with an arguably unsurprising ease, has been a press topic churned out continuously, many an articles’ central vein of contention being the rather repetitive ‘why did such a significant, ‘176 MP shaped’ chunk vote against it?’ At school, on social networks, on our icy bus journeys home, it’s the same discussions hovering; who are these bigots? These stale Tory brow furrowers? These obstructive dinosaurs so gravely out of touch with secular reality? Stop. Now here’s my focus. Though to most of us the Bill embodies a momentous and long-awaited step towards a more tangible social justice, it’s time to dispel the myth: not everyone choosing to oppose the legislation is a bigot.
Instead of descending on the Bill opposers like vicious intolerant vultures, in true Voltairian style, it’s time to take a mature stroll up the spine of the oppositional argument. After all, by studying the tactical foundations of your opponent, you’ll only sharpen the formidable precision of your own counter strikes.
The mesh of oppositional arguments rests on three main legs; legal, religious and political. Religiously, the argument is most archaically predictable: the Bill obliterates the natural, definitive definition of a marriage being between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation (as scripturally enshrined and purported in the 1662 marriage service). Legally, is where the argument lies most heavily anchored, with most Bill sceptics decrying the proffered legal protection for churches as just too dubiously frail. Not only does the ‘durability’ of the discrimination shielding for faiths appear weak, but the fact that ultimately the Strasbourg court will get the final say on the compatibility of provisions in legislation with ECHR, seems deeply ominous. As Sir Tony Baldry (2nd Church Estates Commissioner) puts it succinctly, the Bill creates “an inevitable degree of risk” which 176 MPS (incl. 12 ministers) deem not worth taking.
Finally, the thrust of the political argument is simple: the government cannot evade the factual core that this fundamental redefinition of marriage was neither in the Party’s manifesto nor the Coalition agreement. With no mandate-meaning with no written, pre-electoral seal of approval- the Bill lacks political legitimacy. Of course this triad aside, the more ‘diehard’, decaying traditional croakies – with their stringent propositional scriptural goggles on tight – continue to utilize the ol’ Leviticus 18:22 to condemn homosexuality in general as an abomination. To these crusties, I have some questions on the same merit; I’d like to possess some slaves as Leviticus 25:44 allows, any recommendations? Oh, and as my friend slept with an in-law, I should just burn them to death right, as Leviticus 20:14 dictates?
Though the Bill still awaits the scrutiny of the House of Lords review, the jubilant 400 vote sail through must be celebrated. The Bill marks a long awaited recognition that the depth of love and commitment of same-sex couples is no different to heterosexual ones. As Christian MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, commented, the Bill marks “the end of an organic journey from criminalization to equality for the gay community”. Though some deem it unnecessary in light of the Civil Partnership Act under Blair which holds homosexual relationships ‘separate but equal’(an ominous rhetoric conjuring memories of the sparks which lit the Civil Rights Movement), this Bill could at last extend equality to same sex couples under the Church’s roof.
While we wait, however, a dubious, intriguing question from Feb 5th must be addressed. Despite the efforts of a Conservative PM on the ‘liberal wing’ and his following Cameroons, why is it that more of the leading party in our government’s members voted contrary to the general public’s opinion? Say hello to our ‘representative’ democracy everyone.