David Burrowes is Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate. Follow David on Twitter.
The debate today gives MPs
the opportunity to rise above the media's obsession with the internal dynamics
of the Conservative Party and also some of the vitriol and hate–filled abuse
that has come to the surface. I have tried to avoid media discussion between
Conservatives but as we approach the debate today I want to focus on why
Conservative MPs should oppose the Marriage Bill.
There is talk about which
side of history colleagues will be on when the votes are recalled in years to
come. I don't think today will go down as the day when gay rights were
significantly advanced. That day was in 2004 with the passing of the Civil
Partnerships Act which provides legal rights similar to marriage. Nor do I
think today is about tackling homophobia and the place of gay people in society.
Criminal law (like the homophobic hatred offence which Nick Herbert and I as Shadow
Justice Ministers supported) and anti-discriminatory laws have set the
framework. Now Conservatives instinctively look to education and culture for
respecting the equal value of men and women regardless of their sexuality. So, for
example, I was pleased to recently speak at a conference of my local secondary
school's teachers about tackling homophobic hatred. Redefining marriage is the
wrong vehicle to send out signals about homosexuality.
I do believe many people (and
particularly our constituents in 2015) will look back at today and ask whether their
Conservative MP stood up for marriage. We have always been the Party that has
defended the social institution of marriage. Marriage has never been just about
the happiness and fulfilment of the individuals involved. It is part of a
bigger picture – human societies need stable family groupings,
especially for the nurture and care of children. The man-woman union at the
heart of marriage has to do with this bigger picture. The current demand to
redefine marriage to include same-sex couples is the logical outworking of a
revised understanding of marriage, which is in danger of reducing it to a
merely personal and private relationship.
Conservatives have usually
shied away from extreme individualism. The fulfilment of individual adults taking
centre-stage with the demand that societal, communal and family obligations
must be challenged if they threaten individual happiness. When it is the State
that is leading this charge and marriage is the institution under threat,
Conservatives usually know which side of the argument they want to be on.
Children and parenthood barely get mentioned by
supporters of the Bill despite the fact that this is the prevailing reason for
most couples getting married. You could begin to think that marriage was all
about the value of adulthood and not the value of parenthood. Of course same
sex couples raise children in loving homes and not all marriages involve
children. But over the centuries Society and Church have had a united view of
the essential purpose of marriage, to provide a stable institution for the care
of children. Now the State is trying to divide and rule the meaning of
marriage. It is up to Conservatives to vote for freedom from the overeaching
hand of the State.
On the subject of freedom
Conservatives will be concerned about Professor John Corvino's admission in "Debating Same-Sex
Marriage" (2012) that the introduction of same-sex marriage will
necessarily involve opposite views being marginalised. For him, this is a price
worth paying. Those colleagues who have put their head above the parapet will
have already paid a price – finding themselves on the receiving end of bigotry and hatred. To shut
down or silence individuals or organisations that disagree with gay marriage, with
the backing of a new State orthodoxy, could increasingly be regarded as the
right and moral thing to do. Conservatives need to stand up for freedom of
conscience not just for churches and other faiths on the wedding day but every
other day such as in workplaces or schools.
Today I would then urge
colleagues to vote against the redefinition of marriage and tomorrow we can get
on with the real job which we have a mandate to deliver – which is building
economic and social recovery.
> Also on ConHome today, Bernard Jenkin MP makes the case for including same-sex couples within the institution of marriage.