Westminster City Councillor J P Floru is a free marketeer and political commentator. He is also Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute. Follow him on Twitter.
MPs are misguided to believe that the hundreds of letters against gay marriage they received are respresentative of the general feeling in the population. Rather than preserving their slim majorities, Conservative MPs voting against gay marriage may be setting off the Conservative Party for twenty years in opposition.
Like many other ConHome readers, I have canvassed for the Conservative Party in every British election since 1994. In every election I came across individuals who, on the doorstep, told me that they would never vote Conservative because “the Conservatives introduced Section 28”. More often than not they were people who had saved some money, who had worked hard, who had taken responsibility for their lives, and who were therefore natural Conservatives. Only in the last two or three elections did that antagonism seem to have gone away. Most under 25s don’t even know what Section 28 was about anymore. But it took… twenty years.
Section 28 was a pointless, hateful, and harmful exercise. Teachers were not allowed to “promote” homosexuality. It was both pointless and hateful, as I doubt that even the most extreme loony-leftie teachers would have been engaged in “promoting” homosexuality in the way reasonable people understand that word. As it was unclear what was meant by “promoting”, most teachers just didn’t dare mention homosexuality at all. Resulting in young gays being deprived of one of the only sources of credible information about what they were experiencing and trying to come to terms with. Buried deep into the sky-high suicide rates of young men, are histories of bullying, incomprehension, despair and absence of information — some of it induced by Section 28. Section 28 was never actually prosecuted; teachers applied self-censorship.
I could never be a member of a party which does not treat individuals equally. Funnily, gay marriage is not about marriage. It is about equality before the law. The state should not provide legal privilege for specific groups of people – and certainly not for characteristics one can do nothing about, such as being a redhead, or female, or gay. For me personally, this is much more fundamental than the actual case of marriage. I would have been equally incensed about laws stipulating that bankers or grocers were not allowed to take a seat on a bus.
Some MPs are scared witless because they have suddenly received 1,000 letters opposing gay marriage in their in-tray. They think this is evidence of a groundswell of strong popular feeling. Never mind that most letters were templates provided by organised groups; and that heaps of objectors are both mistaken about the law, the facts, and about what is proposed. When an MP usually receives five to ten letters about any given subject, 1,000 seems an awful lot. Even marginal MPs who are not known bigots have now stated that they will vote against gay marriage.
Their calculations are entirely wrong. Many people are closeted gay, and would not openly write or admit that they are in favour of gay marriage. Population estimates vary from anything between less than one per cent, to ten or even fifteen per cent. If we say it is 3 per cent of the population we are talking about several million voters. That is: a few thousand in each constituency. Add to this their sympathetic family members and friends. Do the maths: gays can sway any elections.
I am not suggesting that all gays will direct their votes in accordance to how an MP votes on gay issues – far from it. Some MPs say privately that “gays would not be voting for the Conservatives anyway”. Anybody active in politics knows how false that statement it. There is no such thing as a gay block vote; however much the socialists would like it. Voters are individuals, not groups.
Especially churches and religious people have been campaigning against gay marriage. Of course, forcing churches to marry gays was never part of the government proposals. A lot of the campaigning against gay marriage has been entirely based on the lie that churches would be forced to perform it. People were scared into writing to their MP about something that wasn't even proposed.
No point in repeating all the arguments for and against – these have been discussed at length in the media and on this website. What surprises me most is the emotive hyperbole many objectors use. Reading some of the hateful stuff people come up with is an excellent argument for unimpeded free speech, as it shows their true nature for all to see. For some it is as if civilisation itself will come to an end if this law passes. Guess what? It won’t. In every single country which introduced gay marriage, it stopped being an issue the day after.
Conservatism is about aspiration and letting people thrive; not about putting people down and keeping them “in their place” by law. I look forward to seeing those suicide rates go down.