Christina Summers, who is a member of Brighton and Hove City Council, the UK’s only Green Party council, has been dismissed from the Green Group of councillors over her views on same-sex marriage which she expressed during in a free vote.
As the Telegraph reported back in July, Miss Summers was ordered to face a party disciplinary panel after voicing dissent over the issue:
She was the only member of the council, which prides itself on its progressive values, to vote against a motion in support of the Government’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry at a meeting last week.
Miss Summers, 50, a devout Christian, says that she strongly supports gay rights and the introduction of civil partnerships could not back the change to marriage laws on religious grounds.
She argued that equality did not require changing the traditional definition of marriage and told colleagues it was a matter of “freedom of speech” for her in a party which does not applying a whipping system in the council in votes on matters of conscience.
But following her speech, fellow Green councillors voted to launch an “official inquiry process” into her stance, accusing her of bringing the party into disrepute.
The rest of the article goes on to talk about a previous run-in Miss Summers had earlier in the year with fellow councillors on abortion issues and the negative treatment she received as a result.
Last week Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance called on the Green Party’s new leader, Natalie Bennett to address the issue as a matter of urgency. With the results of the disciplinary panel’s findings still to be announced he called on the Green Party to prove that it is inclusive and capable of governing for all the people of the UK:
“It is indicative of serious problems with the constitution of the party and shows a serious lack of thinking about what equality and diversity actually are. It also casts doubt on whether the party will be able to achieve their long-term goal of becoming a credible, mainstream influence in UK politics.
“A failure to exonerate Councillor Summers will effectively disbar Christians, Muslims and other religious people from Green politics, consigning the party to a future as a representative vehicle for an extremist minority.
“All the main political parties in the UK have Christian members, MPs, Peers and councillors who are opposed to the plans to redefine marriage. This valuing of diversity and the common commitment to democratic politics is a hallmark of our inclusive, plural society. If the Green Party wants to join this club and be taken seriously in British politics, it needs to present a far more mature view of equality and diversity. Otherwise, if it fails to support Councillor Summers, in order for voters to understand what they would be voting for, it will need to provide a very detailed, intellectually rigorous account of what it thinks equality actually is, and how freedom of conscience relates to it.”
Finally Brighton and Hove Green Party announced today (10th Sept) that Councillor Summers had been dismissed from the Green Group. The announcement was apparently held off until after the party conference to avoid negative publicity according to Christian Concern who broke the news. Miss Summers explained that her actions during the same-sex marriage vote were based on her Christian convictions, stating “I’m accountable to God above any political party”. Following the news of her expulsion she said this:
“I have been waiting for weeks for my colleagues to make a clear and public decision. “They have no idea how much I have been wanting to say to them and how many emails, blogs and tweets from the wider party membership I wanted to refute and respond to. But there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.
“In view of the Green Party’s own special interpretation of equality, my expulsion from the Green Group of councillors should not, in the end, come as a surprise.
“Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel crestfallen. After at least two intimate years of campaigning and then serving together in administration, my own colleagues, who should know me well by now, have chosen to believe a lie. “Party policy, however vague, is sovereign”.
Christian Concern have also said that Councillor Summers is taking advice from the Christian Legal Centre over whether to seek a judicial review of the decision. This seems an unnecessary action. If all the reports quoted here are accurate then it would seem odd that Miss Summers would want to return to the Green Party. The press is likely to have plenty to say, which will in turn draw attention to any failings in the Green party’s disciplinary processes. A judicial review would only further draw this out.
In their statement the Brighton and Hove Green Party point out that this is not a faith issue. They are correct in this as the inquiry was not directly about Miss Summers’ Christian faith. As they rightly point out some Christians support same-sex marriage, but at the same time they attempted to force her to publicly agree with it. Their actual reason for her expulsion was that she sought the support of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) which then publicly spoke out against Green Party policy on her behalf.
The Christian Legal Centre’s CEO, Andrea Williams clearly upset them in the CLC’s original press release by provocatively commenting that “The strong-arm tactics of the Green Party apparatchiks in this instance are disturbing” and drawing attention to some of the abusive messages Miss Summers had received. This public denunciation undoubtedly did provoke a reaction and made Miss Summers’ dismissal increasingly likely. Unfortunately in their statement, the Brighton and Hove Green Party comes across as being unable to take on board negative criticism in a mature and responsible way and react appropriately.
To many the Green Party has had limited credibility in its attempt to place itself in mainstream politics. Perceived single issue parties will always face this dilemma as they try to broaden their appeal to more voters. What this case appears to expose is a failure of the Green party leadership to accept that not all of its members and supporters will have the same views that it dictates they should have.
This should be a major concern to Christians who support it, but just as much so to all its other supporters. If the Green Party thinks intolerance along these lines is the way forward in politics then it risks losing its right to be listened to.
Things can go two ways now. Either the party rectifies this intolerant decision or it accepts that it is not interested in working with those who cannot fully agree with it, which will sideline it for a long time to come.