Tory efforts to delay gay marriage plans defeated with help of Labour
Majority of MPs reject calls for exemptions in case of teachers and registrars
From left: Geoffrey Vero, Dillis Miles, Bob Willard and Ed Costello, part of a group of more than 30 local Conservative Party members and former members who are calling on David Cameron to abandon attempts to redefine marriage, hand in a letter to Number 10 Downing Street. Photograph: PA Wire
Efforts by Conservative MPs to delay or change plans to legalise gay marriage in England and Wales were defeated last night with the help of Labour, following the decision of scores of Conservatives to defy British prime minister David Cameron.
During a series of votes in the House of Commons, a majority of MPs rejected calls that teachers and marriage registrars should have the right not to teach the new rules, or actually carry them out on conscience grounds.
Meanwhile, a majority also rebuffed calls that church schools should have the right not to teach their students that gay marriage is legal and proper if it conflicted with the “religious character” of their schools. The proposed laws also survived their biggest test in a late night vote when Labour decided to oppose calls by some Conservatives that gay marriage should be delayed until heterosexual couples were able to sign up to civil partnerships, which are currently restricted to gay couples.
The proposal to delay, though ostensibly presented as an equality issue, was in reality an attempt by Conservative opponents of Mr Cameron to scupper the introduction of gay marriage – which is deeply resented by a majority of the Conservative grassroots. Supporting Mr Cameron, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, however, warned: “We know [he] is too weak now to push this through. We don’t want to see gay couples who are desperate to set the date finding themselves the victims of this Tory infighting.”
The Labour decision to support Mr Cameron came after hours of frantic behind-the-scenes haggling in the Commons, amid warnings that Mr Cameron’s authority would be fatally damaged if he lost the central vote.
However, the legislation’s passage, but only with the backing of Labour, will copper-fasten the distance that now exists between Mr Cameron and his own grassroots, who are bitterly angry about claims that a Cameron loyalist described them as “swivel-eyed loons”.
During a sometimes bitter debate, Labour MP David Lammy said teachers would be expected to teach pupils that gay marriage is the equal of a heterosexual union: “They are not entitled to a separate view,” he declared, to howls from Conservative MPs.
Demanding exemptions for teachers and registrars, Conservative MP Edward Leigh said public service staff were already losing their jobs or facing demotion if they opposed “the outlandish views of Lambeth in the 1980s which have become embedded”. “Those who disagree are hated, condemned and marginalised,” he said, adding that one public housing official in Manchester had to go to court because he had been demoted and lost 40 per cent of his salary because he had said on Facebook that gay marriage was “an equality too far”.
Rejecting the demands of some of his Conservative colleagues for exemptions for marriage registrars, former home office minister Nick Herbert, who is gay, said they should not be allowed to refuse a ceremony on conscience grounds.
“If it is wrong for a registrar to turn someone away on the grounds that they are black or of an ethnic minority from an application to have their wedding, then why would it be right for a registrar to turn away a gay person. That is the essence of the question.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant said those supporting calls for exemptions were arguing that a religious believer’s views about gay marriage should be given a standing in law denied to any other aspect of their faith. The Virgin Birth, or transubstantiation are “not reflected in legislation”, said the Welsh MP,