Conservative British prime minister David Cameron has come out in support of gay marriage. In the United States and Canada this would be an earth-shattering contradiction. But, in Cameron’s view, it makes perfect sense.
At a Conservative Party convention in Manchester on Wednesday, Cameron told an audience of supporters that he supported the commitment of marriage, regardless of who that marriage is between:
“I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage.
And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
Cameron’s government has also announced it is consulting on introducing same-sex marriage legislation before 2015 (the year of the next general election). Specifically, the consultation is about how to implement gay marriage, and not about whether or not it’s a good idea.
Some MPs and religious figures are not pleased about this. According to the Daily Telegraph, changing the legal definition might lead to ministerial resignations. Tory MP Gerald Howarth said that gay marriage was a matter of “conscience” and that conservative party whips should not try to get conservative MPs to vote for it. He also played the “some of my friends are gay so it’s OK if I don’t like gay marriage” card:
“Some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage. I take the view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. That is what Christian marriage is about.”
Cameron has also been criticized by members of the religious community. Kieran Conry, the Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, supporting marriage is good, but supporting gay marriage is not:
“I think the Church will have to do something. We can’t just let this slide by and say we are not interested. It is the question of protecting the particular, specific institution of marriage and its specific character as the permanent union of a man and a woman who would then bring up their own children.”
According to Pink News, the Catholic Church and the Church of England are expected to oppose the legislation.
To make sweeping and only mostly accurate generalizations, in the United States and (to a lesser extent) in Canada, conservatives emphasize the gay part of gay marriage, and oppose it. Cameron emphasizes the marriage part of gay marriage, and supports it. And conservative religious groups are pro-marriage, but only straight marriage, across the board.
Earlier this week, Rachel Maddow talked about feeling conflicted about gay marriage — that gay alternative ways of recognizing relationships are valuable, and risk being changed or lost when incorporated into the mainstream institution of marriage.
The gay marriage debate, across the board, is still very much about gay rights: straight people can get married, so gay people should be able to. But at the same time, Cameron’s and Maddow’s comments raise an interesting point. There is, after all, a reason that ads like this one are funny:
Image of British PM David Cameron at a 2010 gay pride reception via Reuters.