It was hard going following the debate and developments on Twitter and in Parliament yesterday. It was like the final push before election day as everyone gives it their final shot to make their point and influence those who somehow have yet to make their minds up on the issue. Then following the result we had the aftermath of blame games as well as celebrations depending on what outcome people had hoped for. The difference this time was that I didn’t see anyone who said they hadn’t made their mind up over same-sex marriage yet. This has to be the most polarising political issue I can remember, but it’s not surprising when the stakes are so high.
One thing I’ve struggled to get my head around is why so much fuss has been made leading up to the vote about the Conservative party split compared to talk of why so few Lib Dems and Labour MPs didn’t support the bill. Given the range of polls that indicate that neither those who are for or against same-sex marriage have much of a majority when it comes to public support, one wonders why Conservative MPs have proportionately reflected the public mood much more so than those from the other parties. Maybe the clue is in the name; Conservative with a big C also makes them conservative with a small one too. The irony here though is that it is the Conservative party though David Cameron and now Maria Miller driving this legislation through. In the end it was the one-sided voting by Labour MPs that pushed this through.
Following the debate in parliament during the afternoon yesterday wasn’t overly uplifting. There has been much more rigorous discussion and analysis in the blogosphere over the last few months than in the House of Commons today. For something of such significant importance, leaving such a decision in the hands of our MPs, despite this being the job expected of them, doesn’t lead to a great deal of confidence in the system when dealing with an issue such as this.
Now is not the moment to be making a rallying calls and going through the arguments again. I, like most people who want to make their view known have had plenty of opportunity to say everything by now. I’m well aware that by disagreeing with the bill I’ve upset at least a few people along the way and that despite my best attempts to give reasoned arguments for my opinions, it’s entirely likely that some will view them as bigoted. It’s been very hard to engage with this debate without appearing to be intolerant of those you disagree with, irrespective of which side you’re standing on and that’s probably the main reason I dreaded what was to come when it was first announced.
Some pieces of government legislation come with a high cost, and there certainly has been a high price to pay this time round. MPs themselves have had to face a barrage of complaints from their constituents as this Independent article points out:
‘One MP told The Independent that a number of his colleagues were intending to vote for the Gay Marriage Bill because of the “appalling” nature of the emails they had received.
‘Meanwhile the gay Conservative MP Conor Burns, who has not publicly stated how he will vote, complained that he had been attacked from both the gay and Christian communities. “The whole thing is deeply unpleasant and people are saying things that you wouldn’t say to people you despised or hated,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of God some of those people who have contacted me from religious groups believe in – but he’s certainly not compassionate or loving.”
‘The MP, who asked not to be named said: “Quite a few of us who were considering abstaining will vote in favour of gay marriage because of the unreasonable nature of the emails we have been receiving. Some of the emails I’ve had are simply appalling and I’m fed up with it.”
‘The Conservative MP Angie Bray, who has also not stated which way she will vote, said she had been sent unpleasant emails from both sides. “You get emails from one side saying you’re morally deficient if you vote no and emails threatening hell fire and brimstone if you vote yes. It has frankly been an ill-tempered debate on both sides.”
‘David Burrowes, the main opponent of the Gay Marriage Bill said the abuse was just as strong from those in favour.
‘“I’ve had death threats, hostility and hate mail,” he said. “My children have even been told that their dad is a homophobe. There has been abuse and intolerance of both sides.”’
Sarah Teather having been one of a few Lib Dem MPs to vote against the bill last night was torn apart on her Facebook page last night. Being an MP should be a tough job, but sometimes we forget that they are human too and that many will have found it difficult to vote the way they did because of the consequences that would result.
Christians with traditional views by and large have had a mauling in the press and those campaigners for gay marriage haven’t got away scott-free either. The sad thing is that there will be no let up. We can expect to go through this all again as the bill progresses the parliament towards the final vote. Assuming that it eventually goes through there will still be traumas along the way especially as religions wait to see how watertight the ‘quadruple lock’ is. Damian Thompson in the Telegraph describes the legislation as a bomb for the Church of England. In rather over-sensationalised terms he describes the problems that will be stored up for the future. He finishes by saying, ‘If you thought the battle over women priests and bishops was nasty, wait until this one begins.’
Gay marriage was always going to be an explosive issue with a high price to pay for a limited gain. David Cameron and others were quite happy to set it off without apparently realising the enormity of what they were doing, but the resulting fallout will take many people a long time to repair and heal. It’s been anything but an enjoyable ride so far and though emotions are currently running high, we need to remember that despite the mess the world is not going to collapse. Whether it is going to be better for it is another matter. For those on the losing side the temptation may be to throw stones and make a bigger noise, but that will never be productive. We all need to continue to have robust arguments as the bill progresses, but no matter how much we disagree with others, vilifying them and carrying out character assassinations cannot be justified. There’s been more than enough damage caused already and it’s in no one’s interest to add to it. The way in which we continue to deal with this proposed legislation will ultimately say far more about how mature we have become as a society than our willingness to further embrace a certain understanding of equality.