feature image by © Paul Brown/Demotix/Corbis
I was all ready to write an article on how the right-wing of the Conservative party are still trying to ruin stuff for us adorable queer Brits – how 23 Conservative party chair men were lobbying for the bill to be delayed; how a Member of Parliament is allegedly receiving death threats for his opposition to the bill; how it will apparently negatively affect the chances of the Conservative government being re-elected in 2015 – but then I realised that there was no way I’d finish writing the article before the vote happened on February 5th, the result of which would kind of render my previous idea moot. Instead, I sat tight and followed the bill’s progress online – mainly through The Guardian live-blog, because I am a fan of the liberal media. The numbers looked good – 380 MPs had expressed their support, and the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, is in favour.
This was the second reading of the “Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill”, and there was a huge debate before the voting took place, where 71 backbench MPs (MPs who aren’t Cabinet ministers) got to give the House of Commons their two pennies. The debate started at 12.45pm, and the vote took place at 7pm. Results came out at 7.15pm.
And we won.
We won big. Out of 650 MPs, the bill passed its second reading 400-175, a majority of 225. The more astute of you may have noticed that this means 74 MPs abstained (one – the Speaker, John Bercow, notorious fan of the gays, cannot vote), but even with them all voting against, the bill still would have passed with a majority of 149 votes.
However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows – the numbers belie a much bigger problem. Out of 303 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, “140 or so” voted against the bill, according to Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton. He added that “there are 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour”, and 31 abstained – which means that only 44% of Conservative MPs supported David Cameron’s party line on the bill. Conservative MPs have discussed the overwhelming number of people who have spoken to them opposing the bill – does this mean they will lose part of their key demographic? How is David Cameron going to handle the fact that more than half of his party rebelled, voting in favour of the old ways? It’s certainly going to damage the new Conservative party image he’s trying to cultivate: it’s hard to say you’re in charge of a progressive party who support equality when 56% of your MPs don’t. The bill only passed because of overwhelming support from the other parties, notably the Liberal Democrats (the smaller party in the UK Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition) and Labour.
The other problem is that this bill is not yet law. It has to pass to the Committee stage and the Reporting stage, be voted on again at the third reading, and then go through the same stages in the unelected House of Lords. Legislation will be batted back and forth between the two houses before everyone gets bored of scrutinising the fine print and it is officially signed into law by the Queen.
Of course, complaints will arise. I’m envisioning middle-class white men waxing lyrical about how the Institution of Marriage has been Irrevocably Destroyed. I’m envisioning Church of England bishops kicking up a fuss, and Daily Mail columnists asking “won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!”. But the future looks bright. The bill is pretty much guaranteed to pass into law, though nobody can say for sure if it will be sooner or later. As Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg puts it:
“No matter who you are and who you love, we are all equal. Marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay.”