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Gay Marriage, 'Bigoted' Tories & Irresponsible Journalism

17 Jan 2012 at 18:09

There is nothing the media and the Labour Party love better than trying to make out the Conservative Party is still the ‘nasty party’. Not just seen as the ‘nasty party’, but IS the ‘nasty party’. And their means of doing it is to imply that the Tories are institutionally homophobic. And they are at it again over the issue of gay marriage. Today Andrew Grice, the political editor of The Independent leads the charge in THIS front page lead article.

TORY MPs GO TO WAR OVER GAY MARRIAGE

According to Grice…

“Conservative MPs are trying to sabotage David Cameron’s plan to legalise gay marriage, threatening a rebellion bigger than the one in which 81 voted against the Government on Europe.”

Indeed, Grice says…

“Opponents claim more than 100 Tory backbenchers could vote against gay marriage… Feelings are running high,” one senior party source said yesterday."

And what or who does he cite as evidence? The comments of one – yes, one – socially Conservative MP, David Burrowes. You couldn’t make it up. He doesn’t even pretend to have a second source or make any attempt to question the assertion by “opponents” of gay marriage. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know how many Conservative MPs would vote against legalising gay marriage, nor does Andy Grice, nor does David Burrowes. Perhaps they might ask how many Labour or LibDem MPs would vote against it too, as you can be sure there are some that would. And more than just a handful, too.

But let’s say Burrowes and Grice are right, and 100 Tory MPs voted against legalising gay marriage. That would leave two thirds who voted in favour – something unthinkable even ten years ago. And does it make the 100 homophobic? In some cases, probably yes, but in most cases no. I still can’t defend them doing it, but it doesn’t necessarily imply homophobia on their part, as some will no doubt claim. This whole issue is predicated on a spurious view that somehow churches will be forced to conduct gay marriages. As Detta O’Cathain found out in the Lords debate, that view is wrong headed and totally misunderstands the legislation. Churches won’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do, as their own legal advisers have made clear. So this really is a stooshie about nothing. But before I go, let’s look at David Burrowes’ comments, as quoted by Andrew Grice. To say they are delusional and wrong-headed is an understatement.

“Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country”

Er, why? Why does gay marriage have any effect on how marriage between men and women are viewed? Perhaps David Burrowes needs to have a word with his friend and co-founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, colleague, Tim Montgomerie, who is fully in favour of allowing gay people to marry. He clearly doesn’t see the problems envisaged by David Burrowes. Let’s continue…

“There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.”

No, it really wouldn’t. Perhaps David Burrowes should meet with the Church of England’s legal advisers, who say the direct opposite. Who should we believe? The Church of England’s legal advisers or an MP who clearly hasn’t briefed himself properly?

“Gay marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage.”

Really? When is a good time. At what stage should we have the debate? Perhaps Mr Burrowes might inform us.

“It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about.”

Maybe not, but I suspect Mr Burrowes has a number of constituents who might benefit from the legislation but none who would be damaged by it. He might like to think about that. Does he get consituents hammering on his door saying “Mr Burrowes, what we really need to do is act on social justice.”

“It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that.”

Ah, the argument of someone with no argument. And with a vague threat to boot. Nice. If that is the level of debate which will be deployed by David Burrowes and whatever colleagues he can muster up (and we could probably all name the six most likely candidates now – yes, I mean you Edward Leigh!) then I suspect their opposition will easily be defeated.

David Burrowes and his supporters should think about what David Cameron said at the Conservative Party Conference last October.

“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

Opponents of gay marriage seem to think there is something fundamentally un-Conservative in it. To my mind they are completely wrong. Conservatives believe in the institution of marriage and all that flows from it. And that should apply to marriages between people of the opposite sex or the same sex.

Finally, a plea to journalists. Andy Grice is a journalist I respect, but I do not think he covered himself with glory today. It was an ‘easy’ hit. The sort of thing you might expect to read in, dare I say it, the Daily Mail. This is not a subject to play silly buggers with (see what I did there?). And I hope that the usual Labour suspects (Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant) will try to resist temptation. OK, I know, I know, but one can but hope, eh? They might like to acknowledge that it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is taking the initiative on gay marriage. If I can give Tony Blair credit for civil partnerships, surely Labour MPs can also give credit where it is due.

Perhaps Andy Grice would like to balance his report of one MP with this text I received from another Tory MP (on the right of the party) who had seen my overnight tweets on the subject of gay marriage. Here’s part of the text…

I totally agree with your tweet on the Grice article. I wrote to my local bishop before Christmas basically saying ‘f off you bigoted twat’ (albeit in parliamentary language!) on gay marriage. You can be a Christian and liberally minded at the same time.

Quite.

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