Bath MP Don Foster votes for same-sex marriage
Bath Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster last night backed plans to legalise gay marriage which have exposed deep divisions within the Conservative Party.
The Local Government Minister was joined by fellow Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, who represents Chippenham and Tory MP for South West Wiltshire Dr Andrew Murrison in helping the historic proposals clear their first Commons hurdle by 400 votes to 175 – a majority of 225.
But more than 100 Tories voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill’s second reading.
They included James Gray for North Wiltshire and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP for North East Somerset.
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The vote followed more than six hours of impassioned debate on the proposed legislation.
Mr Foster has received hundreds of letters and emails on the subject.
He said: “I am aware that that opinion is split amongst Bath residents, just as it is amongst politicians and church leaders.
“The guiding principles of my politics have always been freedom, fairness and equality and it is with these in mind that I enthusiastically vote in favour of same-sex marriage. I believe it will strengthen, not undermine, the key role that marriage plays in our modern society.
“My party was the first to vote in favour of equal marriage at our 2010 party conference and I am proud that in Government we are tackling the inequalities faced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community head on.
“The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, and crucial to that is equal rights for all. The state should not bar a couple who want to marry just because of their gender and the state should not bar a religious body that wishes to do so from conducting same-sex marriages.”
Mr Foster is in the process of trying to organise a debate in Bath ahead of the final vote, the details of which have yet to be confirmed.
He said: “This will give people a chance to put forward their views, and to hear in more detail the reasoning behind my position.”
The newly-formed Bath-based pressure group Christians for Equal Marriage UK said it was thrilled with the vote.
The group said: “It's our hope and prayer now that those who have reacted negatively to the Bill will begin to realise that their fears for the institution of marriage are not valid. After all, equal marriage has been the case in some Belgium for ten years now and nothing has changed. What political parties have to realise is that more people turn away from them because of prejudice and unfairness.”
Co-founder Nathan Hartley added: “I know people who have even dropped their party membership due to the hostility of fellow party members and MPs to equal marriage. This is also true of the church where people hear judgementalism instead of the inclusive message of Jesus.”
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the change of law would make Britain “a fairer place to live”, and insisted religious organisations which did not want to conduct gay marriages had protection.
She claimed it was “simply inconceivable” that the European Court of Human Rights would unpick the Government's “quadruple lock” aimed at protecting religions who did not wish to opt-in to the proposals.
Mr Hames asked about protections for registrars. He said: “Given that the number of mixed-sex marriages should not be expected to fall, can registrars be confident that even if they decline to take on and preside over the new same-sex marriage registrations, they will not lose their jobs or experience negative employment consequences?”
Responding, Mrs Miller said: “As he will know, civil registrars are public servants. Recent court rulings have made clear that they must balance carefully their right to a religious belief with their equal right to ensure that they provide services in a way that does not discriminate against individuals.
“It is a very difficult issue, but I know that he has raised it for the right reasons, and I am sure that it will be considered very closely in committee.”
But Tory MPs lined up to condemn the measures, arguing they undermined marriage, would alienate voters and threaten the party’s election prospects.
Responding to the result on Twitter, the Prime Minister David Cameron wrote: “Strong views exist on both sides but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain.
“The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported this change to make sure marriage reflects the value we place on long-term, loving relationships whoever you love.
“Equal marriage builds on Labour's successes in Government which include the repeal of Section 28, equalising the age of consent, the introduction of civil partnerships and changes to the rules governing adoption.”