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Cooper OliverOliver Cooper is National Chairman of Conservative Future.  Follow Oliver on Twitter.

The
Conservative Party is the oldest political party in the world, having managed
change from one era to the next more successfully than any other.  We are,
after all, a party founded by Robert Peel’s acceptance of the Great Reform Act
– the original Tory opposition to which put the Conservative Party on the wrong
side of history and the electorate and which Disraeli believed cost it greatly
for four decades.

The
bill legalising same-sex marriage reaches its third reading in the House of
Commons this week and is another test of our long-term survival
instincts.  For my part, I've supported marriage equality for ten years –
I, like most  peoplemy age, simply can’t understand why people shouldn't be able to
celebrate their love the same way, no matter who they love.  Ideally,
government should get out the business of marriage altogether – and leave it to
couples and communities to decide – but this bill does the next best thing.

Opposing
it doesn't make you a bigot or a homophobe – a label far too many are willing
to apply to those voting against.  There are many religious objections to
same-sex marriage – while the bill introduces safeguards to protect churches, I
won't try to persuade MPs that feel their own religious beliefs stop them
voting for the bill.  But to those that are open to persuasion, I’d like
to make a plea from the next generation.

While
most voters support same-sex marriage, it’s undoubtedly, and regrettably, the
case that most Conservative voters oppose it.  But those that voted
Conservative in 2010 are the least likely voters to rank it as a major
issue.  After all, we’re Conservatives; we care more about the big issues
– like fixing our economy, our schools, and our welfare system – and we should
be proud that we do.


There
is, however, a generational shift.  People under the age of 24 are three times as likely to
put same-sex marriage in their top “three or four” political issues
 as those over the age of 60. And they support
same-sex marriage three-to-one – those aged 25 to 40 back it by five-to-one. It won’t decide the next election, but will decide elections decades from
now.  The next generation of voters think same-sex marriage is one of the
big issues – and they’ll think us hypocrites to preach freedom and not back it
in practice.

Having grown up in a post-Thatcher world, my
generation can't justify the core Conservative conviction of freedom by crude
Cold War geopolitics, but by how consistently we stick to our values. 
That freedom is not pick-and-mix – it’s indivisible; big government is big government
and Conservatives should reject it wherever we find it.  And, yes, should
be both concerned about government forcing churches to conduct same-sex
ceremonies – as they won’t be – and concerned about government prohibiting
churches from conducting them – as they currently are.

Our party’s reputation amongst
young people is at stake, and it has to be protected.  If we want to
defeat socialism going forward – not just in the next Parliament, but the next
generation – we have to be seen by the next generation as advancing our values
in ways it can relate to.  Too many of my generation, when discussing
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, talk of little more than Section 28 – a measure
introduced before they were born that instantly colours, in their ill-judged
view, everything else she did.  If the party allows itself to be on the
wrong side of history, young people will grow up to never vote Conservative.

This bill is not perfect.  The timing is not perfect.  The
debate has not been perfect.  But this is our only opportunity as a party
to ensure that the next generation sees us as advancing not just equality, but
our own primary principle of liberty as well.  I urge all MPs to seize
that opportunity and, for the sake of the party’s future, back the bill.

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