We Won A Thing: UK House of Commons Votes to Legalise Gay Marriage

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.

via parliment.uk

See that 2 in a green circle? That’s where we are right now. via parliament.uk

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.”

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I like raspberry lip balm and can't speak French. I also enjoy music, writing and trawling the internet when I should be doing something useful. Aspiring writer and expert music junkie.

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34 Comments

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        Yep, not a UK bill, but an English (England and Wales) bill. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate parliaments, but are not voting on this bill. For something to become “UK law” (not a legal term), it has to be passed by all 3 parliaments.

        Scotland have had a separate consultation, but I don’t think it’s got much further than that yet. However on the plus side, the Scottish consultation was more equal; going for allowing marriage *and* CP for both same-same and opposite-sex couples (while the English bill doesn’t include opposite-sex CP allowance).

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        Scottish ‘Straddler (and political nerd) here.

        Bear in mind that the process of passing a bill through the Scottish Parliament is a lot quicker and simpler, mainly because there is only one chamber. Much of the consultation that would take place during the committee stage at Westminster takes place before the bill makes it to the floor of Parliament at all. It’s quite possible that the Scottish bill will pass before the England and Wales one does, and there is certainly less opposition, both in Parliament and in the population, to marriage equality up here.

        There is no provision for opposite-sex CPs in the Scottish bill either.

        You should definitely fill in the Scottish Government consultation to which Sawyer linked above, especially if you live in Scotland; the more voices they hear in favour the more straightforward the legislative process will be.

  1. Thumb up 3

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    As a Brit, I have to say I’m pleased with tonight’s vote but also pessimistic. Mainly because of all the back and forthing that can happen between now and the Queen, meaning that this may not come to pass this year, Cameron & Co’ll get happy votes yet we’ll still be sat here with Civil Partnerships until it get’s dragged back though the commons in 2023, when the majority finally realise how ridiculous the whole debate’s been anyway!

  2. Thumb up 1

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    It’s a start, as you say a long way to go, but still a hugely positive step. I saw and have read some of the MPs for and against arguments, David Lammy in particular seemed to have gained a huge virtual pat on the back for his for argument. As did others. Perhaps the most obnoxious against was David Simpson who actually trotted out the oh so original it’s not Adam and Steve line. Utterly pathetic that an MP would actually think its appropriate to use such a moronic argument, but not that surprising, I would have bet somebody would have used it.

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    I’M SO EXCITED I will FINALLY be able to marry my woman in either my country or hers (Sweden) OR EVEN BOTH.

    It’s going to be awesome.

    Also I’m fairly confident I’m the only person left in the UK that would willingly shake Nick Clegg’s hand and vote Lib Dem – but I would like to point out that only FOUR Lib Dems voted against. Compared to like 31 Labour MPs. Hurray!

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      I still like cleggy too!

      I’m still of the opinion that the lib dems are used as a scapegoat for tory policies that don’t go down so well, and that we would be in a much worse situation had the conservatives had a majority.

      Also that students are fucking idiots. (I say this as a student) Mostly for the reason of the treasury is saving £6000 on EVERY STUDENT compared to what they were, and if you can’t se that that’s a good thing for national debt, you’re not looking very hard.

      Seriously fuck ‘the lib dems betrayed us’ arguments.

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        The government are not saving £6000 per student. The government still have to pay up front for the fees thought the student loan system. It is estimated that there will be a large increase in the default on the loans, they government itself is only expecting to get back 70%. This is because the threshold for payback is increased, it is written off after 30 years and the debt gained by students will be in the region £30,000-£40,000.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18101729

        Not to mention all the economic losses of having less university graduates, and those that do having less income to spend.

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    I hope that the significant Commons majority here means that things won’t get too sticky in the committee or the Lords; it’s a clear mandate, no matter how many old bigots on the Tory benches don’t like it.

    Overall I’m just really, really fucking happy. I’m going to be able to get married :D

  5. Thumb up 3

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    One thing that is amusing is the sight of certain against MP’s pontificating over the sanctimony of marriage who have previously been caught out having affairs, that particular hypocrisy is never lost. Another against MP whose name escapes was keen to express his fears for school teachers and how they will now have to teach marriage in schools…now I left school a little over 2 1/2 years ago, I don’t recall ever being taught about marriage – not even if religious education (though I did drop that subject after the mandatory period). But it really is like some people think ‘straight’ marriage will implode if those ‘gays’ can do it too. Even in a non-religious ceremony.

    Also, to listen to some against speakers you would think that all gay people want children – thus not only destroying marriage as we know it but family too. Here’s some news not all gay people want children just like not all straight people do. Marriage isn’t going to be destroyed – because marriages succeed or fail not because of gender but because humans regardless of gender, sexuality or race are imperfect – not everbody will have the happy ever story – but at least some people have that opportunity. I don’t if I’ll ever get married, I see it as a bit of an outdated concept but I long to see the day when my gay friends who do want to get married in a ceremony of their choosing have the legal right to do so.

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    Finally, this is over.

    I’ll be so relieved to not see “traditionalist” Tory twats and bishops no-one’s ever heard of clogging up my news pixels with filth.

    Also will be quite nice that gay people can get married.

  7. Thumb up 3

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    We found out the result in the middle of our elections for our university LBGT group and I burst into tears. Now I know that I can marry whoever I want to in the place I was born. This gives me so much hope for the future.
    I was listening to the backbench debate and some of the things said made me want to cry and hit people, but the result shows that the minority does not get to decide the outcome for the majority. So thank you, parliament.

  8. Thumb up 7

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    YES! I wrote to my (Conservative) MP yesterday saying I’d invite him to my wedding if he voted for the bill. So. I guess that’s happening.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    I followed most of the debate today – I think my favourite quote from the opposing parties was this gem:
    “equality does not mean treating everything the same” (thanks to Matthew Offord for that one).

    I think there is such a weight of public opinion behind this (there were hundreds of tweets every minute about #equalmarriage, 99% of which were positive) that I can’t see it not getting through the House of Lords and signed off pretty sharpish.

    I also think it’s telling that after so many claims that this “should not be a priority” for the Conservatives and there are more important issues to be dealt with, this is the only House of Commons debate/bill I can remember people actually engaging with, appearing on facebook feeds and being talked about amongst my (straight) friends.

    Yeah, people do care actually.

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      Not to mention the chamber was 100x fuller of Tory (and other party) backbenchers than the questions to the Justice Minister right before the same sex marriage debate started. Not to mention I’ve seen economic debates that have more staff hanging around than MPs. “Yeah, we’re not bigots, it’s just no one really cares about gay marriage!” Right.

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    I’M SO HAPPY! But there’s still such a bloody long way to go yet.

    For once I just wish they (the idiots voting against) could feel what it’s like to have a group of people they don’t know choose whether they could marry, or as the case may be for a lot of them re-marry, the person they love.

    I may actually be able to get MARRIED married in my lifetime.

    And isn’t that a sad thought? That I MIGHT be able to.

    Those jerk-faces really have no idea, do they?

  11. Thumb up 1

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    Amazing! Now will someone please let the idiot DUP politicians know that they are archaic dinosaurs and Northern Ireland is as ready for this as England and Wales. Luckily for us in Northern Ireland, we have Naomi Long representing the Alliance party in HP. The only mainstream liberal party in Northern Ireland and she obviously voted in favour :D

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    This is such a positive step in the right direction! I’m so happy just to be on the road to passing this law.

    On the negative side, listening to the news today with my mum provoked a bit of a debate. Turns out she’s a lot more homophobic than i realised. So that’s disappointing. But her points weren’t nasty – just out-dated and old fashioned.

    Oh well, the main feelings of today are happy ones. England is finally getting there.

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    This is obviously a step in the right direction, but it’s important to remember that for one thing, it’s totally banned in the Church of England thanks to the high-ups making a decision on behalf of everyone else in the Church (plenty of whom objected).
    Also, as usual, trans* people have been merrily chucked under the bus on this one. A good informative read is Sarah Brown’s article:
    http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=139
    (Also you guys, trans* people’s partners can still veto their application for a Gender Recognition Certificate! Even if they’re going through a big horrible divorce! what even is the UK istg)

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    This is great and I am in obvious support of the news, but the bill is flawed and it was rushed through (purposely, to avoid 8 more weeks of news of how Cameron can’t control his party).
    I think it is sobering to remember that the majority of the Conservative Party was opposed to this bill, and if this had been a Tory majority Government,it wouldn’t have been passed. (In fact, if it was a Tory majority Government, it probably wouldn’t have even been suggested).
    As far as Cameron’s stance goes,he was in a lose-lose situation. He could either have retained the support of his back-benchers and lost wide-spread appeal (he’s already not managed to ‘modernise the Tory party’ as he famously claimed he was going to); or he could’ve pushed the bill through (secure in the knowledge would go through due to overwhelming opposition support)and lose the back-benchers. Which is what has happened.
    But, in 40 or 50 or whatever years or so when the first ‘golden’ weddinganniversaries are being celebrated by gay couples, they
    will still remember that Cameron did that for them. And he probably deserves that.
    This is good news, I think we have every right to be cautiously optmistic … finally.

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      This made me laugh!…

      “purposely, to avoid 8 more weeks of news of how Cameron can’t control his party’

      and this is exactly how I feel about it…

      “This is good news, I think we have every right to be cautiously optmistic … finally.”

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