Thursday, 7 February 2013

A good day for equality?

The Parliamentary vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was, in many ways, something of a landmark. That it should pass with such a strong majority should, I suppose, be viewed positively. But something in the breakdown of the votes still irks me.

The motion was passed by 400 votes to 175, giving it a strong mandate as it moves to the Lords (one wonders what they will make of it!). It's that 175 that gives rise to disappointment. This was a free vote – no whip was issued, giving MPs free rein to vote as they, or their constituents in an ideal world, saw fit. 136 of the 'nay' votes were Tories – almost 80% of them. That's nearly half the Parliamentary Tory members. Given that 35 Tories abstained, this means only 127 of them actually voted in favour – fewer than voted against.

This means that the majority of the rank and file MPs of the largest party in our government believe that people should be denied the same rights as everybody else simply because of their sexuality. And that's what it boils down to – they may make indignant noises about the sanctity of the union between  a man and a woman, or various other bollocks, but that's just Emperors' new clothing over the naked truth of the matter.

I'll be watching this one through the Lords with interest, because I can't see it passing into law unscathed – there will be objections from a Lords which is rather less representative of the general population than the Commons, and the disquiet among so many Tories will surely give Cameron cause to think, and possibly water it down to keep his own party happy. Cameron himself, to give him credit he rarely receives in these pages, has vocally supported this bill. But he's got a problem on his hands with so many of his party in open opposition to it.

Assuming this does, down the line, pass into law, all that will then remain will be to give heterosexual couples the right to civil partnerships currently only enjoyed by same-sex couples. Then we really would have across-the-board equality in these matters. For now, on balance, I think this was a good day for equality – a single step in the right direction, at any rate.