Aylesbury MP David Lidington explains why he voted against gay marriage (but admits he was WRONG about civil partnerships in the past)

David Lidington
David Lidington

Aylesbury MP David Lidington says he voted against gay marriage because of a number of legal uncertainties and because marriage is so important that its ‘definition should not be altered without an extremely compelling case for doing so’.

The Europe minister has released a statement explaining his decision to vote against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday, which was passed by 400 votes to 175.

In it he says:

> There was not enough scrutiny of the bill prior to the vote and that it has not been properly thought through.

> He usually votes along conservative lines when it comes to matters of conscience, in part because of his religious views but also because the onus lies on advocates of reform to make a compelling case for change.

> He reflected particularly hard on this vote because he regrets voting against civil partnerships in the past.

> He has been ‘dismayed’ by the rhetoric used on both sides and the ‘entire debate ought to be more characterised by respect for the honesty and integrity of people, whichever side they take, than has sometimes been the case’.

> The essence of marriage is not just ‘mutual love and commitment but also for the procreation and care of children’. ‘To alter that definition is a far more radical change than changing the minimum age of marriage or permitting a marriage to take place in a registry office (or for that matter a hotel) as well as a church’.

> The bill leaves ‘unresolved a series of difficult legal matters’. There is no 100% guarantee that religious institutions won’t be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages and he fears that people of faith could be put under pressure by the new bill.

> Other ‘anomalies’ include that ‘adultery will be excluded as grounds for the divorce of a same-sex marriage and civil partnerships will be retained for gay couples but not available to heterosexual couples’.

Mr Lidington’s statement in full:

“As you know, the House of Commons debated the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on Tuesday 5 February.

“Conservative MPs had a free vote on the matter, with Ministers and Whips voting in different lobbies.

“My understanding is that MPs of other political parties also had a free vote. The outcome was that the Bill was approved at Second Reading by 400 votes to 175. “I have consistently said that I would want to see the detail of any legislation before deciding how to vote. The Bill was only published a few days before the debate.

“Unusually for such a significant change to the law, there was no Green or White Paper to allow the issues to be discussed. Nor was there any pre-legislative scrutiny, the procedure under which a Bill is published in draft and sent to a parliamentary committee to be discussed and to enable witnesses to give evidence before legislation is introduced in its final form.

“In the past, I have usually voted on conservative (with a small ‘c’) lines on Bills and motions which concern matters of conscience. In part this was because of my religious views, but also because of my belief that marriage and the family are fundamental building blocks of a stable society. My general approach is that when it comes to a traditional institution like marriage the onus lies on those who advocate reform to make the case for change.

“This time, I wanted to reflect particularly carefully before deciding what to do, partly because I voted in the past against the creation of civil partnerships for gay couples but I now believe that that decision to have been mistaken. I have seen how that measure, both in removing legal obstacles over matters like inheritance and recognition as next-of-kin, and in allowing same-sex couples to make a public, institutionalised declaration of their mutual love, fidelity and commitment, has made a difference for the good in the lives of friends of mine both in Parliament and outside.

“I have been dismayed by the intemperate tone and language used by some partisans on both sides of the current debate. I know parliamentary colleagues who happen to be gay who have felt deeply wounded by terms that have been used to describe them (language which no-one who professes to believe in a God of love should use of another human being). I also know MPs who have publicly opposed the Bill who have been traduced as bigots and whose families, including schoolchildren, have been harassed by people claiming to champion tolerance and equality.

“In my view this entire debate ought to be more characterised by respect for the honesty and integrity of people, whichever side they take, than has sometimes been the case and I am glad that those constituents who have sent me letters or emails about this subject or who have visited me at my constituency surgery, have expressed themselves thoughtfully, sometimes with passion and always with seriousness and courtesy.

“I should add that until last year’s announcement of the plan to introduce same-sex marriages, I was not aware of any campaign, either nationally or in the constituency, for this further change to the law.

“As well as reading the Bill, the government’s explanatory notes on it and correspondence that I had had from constituents, I read carefully the letters and briefing papers that I was sent by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, Stonewall and other organisations. In the end, I decided to vote against the Bill at Second Reading and I want to set out the reasons for that decision.

“I think that marriage is such an important institution in our society that its definition should not be altered without an extremely compelling case for doing so. The Bill’s supporters have argued that the definition of marriage has changed over the years, citing the institution of civil marriage in the nineteenth century and changes to the age at which a person may legally marry. But that is to ignore the fact that whatever changes have been made, the essential nature of marriage in this country and in Europe as a whole has been as a public institution that binds together one man and one woman, exclusively and permanently. Its purpose is not only to provide mutual love and commitment but also for the procreation and care of children.

“To alter that definition is a far more radical change than changing the minimum age of marriage or permitting a marriage to take place in a registry office (or for that matter a hotel) as well as a church.

“The introduction of civil partnerships provided a way for same-sex couples to affirm publicly their lifelong mutual commitment, while also providing for the legal equality that gay people had sought in matters like taxation and wills. Indeed civil partnerships were advocated in 2004 and since as the equivalent, for a same-sex couple, to civil marriage.

“The Civil Registration Act 2004 has already given same-sex couples who enter a civil partnership the same rights under the law that are enjoyed by married couples. The new Bill gives no additional legal rights to same-sex couples. Rather, its purpose is to give same-sex couples the right to public recognition and declaration of their partnership as marriage.

“What the Bill does, as a by-product of redefining marriage, is to leave unresolved a series of difficult legal matters. I believe that the Government has tried hard in drafting the Bill to ensure that churches, mosques and synagogues cannot be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages. I would even say, as a non-lawyer, that I am pretty confident that those safeguards would be upheld in the courts. But the interaction of this Bill with human rights legislation means that a guarantee cannot be 100 per cent.

“More concerning to me is the possible interaction between the provisions of this Bill and the Equalities Act 2010. To what extent would teachers and other public servants whose beliefs meant that they were unable to accept the redefinition of marriage be put under pressure? Could Christian, Muslim or Jewish groups find themselves excluded from access to public funding or facilities?

“I know that this is the last thing that those supporting the Bill in Parliament intend, but there is legal uncertainty and we have seen enough cases already of religious believers put under pressure for me to wish to see firmer assurances here.

“The Bill actually creates new anomalies. Adultery will be excluded as grounds for the divorce of a same-sex marriage and civil partnerships will be retained for gay couples but not available to heterosexual couples. This last point seems to me capable of legal challenge under human rights law, especially since the argument up till now for not according civil partnerships to heterosexual couples has been that civil marriage and civil partnerships amounted legally to much the same thing. Yet for civil partnerships to become available for heterosexual couples would raise a whole set of further questions about how society views the institution of marriage.

“I do not question the sincerity or goodwill of my parliamentary colleagues (of any political party) who supported the Bill, but I do not think that the implications of this measure have been properly thought through. In those circumstances and in the absence of a compelling case for such a fundamental change in the definition of marriage, I decided to vote against the Second Reading.”