Is Sarah Teather’s departure a sign that faith and party politics cannot mix?

Sarah TeatherIf you have a look at the politicians who have been mentioned the most on this blog, once you get past Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, you’ll find that Sarah Teather is right up there.  When I published the transcript of her Gladstone Lecture for the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum back in July I didn’t expect the subject of immigration to be vastly popular. Yet to my great surprise it had soon been shared all over Twitter and Facebook. It’s now my sixth most read post. Sarah’s discussion from a Christian perspective on the need to protect those on the margins of society undoubtedly struck a chord with many readers.

Judging by the level of reaction when the news of her decision to step down as an MP at the next election broke on Saturday, it was immediately apparent that her way of doing politics has made an impact on many people. Her stance against the equal marriage bill provoked an angry response on social media and in the press, but she has also won many admirers by standing up against the Coalition government’s rhetoric on welfare and immigration. It says something about what she has achieved when various MPs and peers from outside of her own party have voiced their sincere regrets at seeing her choose to go.

Sarah Teather is a politician driven by her principles. Her deep desire to improve the immigration system resulted in the ending of the routine detention of children, but since she was relieved of her position of Minister of State for Children and Families back in September 2012, those who follow politics closely have seen her becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction the Liberal Democrat party has travelled and finding her beliefs and values regularly conflicting with party policies. This could be sensed in an interview with the Catholic Herald in May. Here’s an extract:

“I sometimes describe myself to people as a liberal Catholic and a Catholic Liberal,” Teather replies, “and both can be hard places to inhabit. There are an awful lot of people in my party with a strong religious faith, but there is also an aggressively secular strand amongst our activists, typical of any centre-Left party.”

It brings us back to the personal being political, and principle – in Teather’s case informed by the teaching of her Church – sometimes forcing you to take outspoken stances. “Some things are private,” she asserts, “but some private things do have a public dimension. It is never an easy thing, though, to translate faith into politics because politics is an imperfect world, and legislation in particular is a very clumsy vehicle”.

What, though, of her position on gay marriage? Her decision to vote against saw her attacked by precisely the same people who had previously been lauding her independence of mind. “It was an extremely difficult choice,” she says, “and in many ways I’d rather not resurrect the whole argument again. It wasn’t one of those issues that I went into politics to tackle, but once a vote became inevitable I spent ten or 11 months weighing up the issues – of equality on the one hand and family life and what it meant for the definition of marriage on the other. I did a lot of reading and eventually I came to my conclusion, based not on any effect it would have in the short-term, but on the change it would mean for marriage over a longer period of time.”

Was she tempted to abstain? “No, because I had thought very hard about it, and finally reached a position, so to try and dodge expressing a view didn’t feel right.”

Speaking on Sky News, Nick Helm, who broke the story in the Observer, said that, “Sarah Teather is a very deep thinking politician who has over recent years developed a deep Catholic faith.” and that she has struggled to square her party’s practical decisions with her conscience.  Along with her interview at the weekend which sets out her frustrations, her essay in the newly published Lib Dem Christian Forum book,  ‘Liberal Democrats Do God’ paints a picture of the roots of her reasoning:

On benefits, on  poverty, on immigration, the public mood is angry and resentful. Restricted by collective responsibility, hampered by austerity, conscious of the strength of public opinion and fearful of the next election, Liberal Democrats have watched and winced at others’ mean characterisations and occasionally indulged in a few of our own. But mostly we have been uncomfortably silent.

In the absence of our witness, it has been left to Christian churches to provide an alternative narrative.

Christian leaders have consistently criticised the demonization of immigrants and welfare claimants because Christianity has a very particular view about what it means to be human, about human value and worth. A worth that transcends notions of wealth or popularity, of acceptable behaviour or conduct, of race or creed, of citizenship or country of birth.  Christianity professes that all are precious and worthy of dignity, as beings created in the image of a loving God.

If the world around you is a place where you encounter the Divine, and if you look for Christ especially in the face of the poorest, what follows logically from that is a perspective on policy-making which is inclusive and not exclusive. One that is concerned to foster the conditions in communities that enable trusting, flourishing relationships to develop. That extends a special care to those who are most vulnerable, even in the face of others’ hostility. That is prepared to speak against the heaping of abuse onto those at the bottom of the hierarchy of public opinion, be they asylum seekers or welfare claimants, not just to safeguard their dignity, but also because such dehumanising behaviour ultimately affects us all.

Sarah is one of the most open Christian MPs I have seen when it comes to talking about a personal faith and how it affects personal politics.  Although she does not mention it directly in her Observer interview, there can be little doubt that the Christian beliefs that inform her principles have repeatedly come into conflict with toeing the party line. The question resulting from Teather’s decision is whether you can have strongly held religious beliefs and be fully involved in any political party effectively. For Sarah Teather the answer would now appear to be no. It is in fact a question that regularly comes up in conversation when I discuss politics with Christians.

When Steven Timms MP spoke at the New Wine conference this summer many of the audience’s questions related to this too. It is a big issue for Christians who care about such things to grapple with.  For Steven Timms, he has managed to reconcile the two without damaging his clearly strong faith. Only rarely does he find it to be a problem.

I also have it on good authority from those in the know that there are many Christians hoping to stand at the next election. All this would suggest that Christians can take their faith into politics successfully. These potential candidates will be expecting a difficult journey, but they are also well prepared and have the support. And as the Observer interview highlights, support (or lack of it) is the key that has made the difference for Sarah Teather.

From her own words the impression is formed that she has bravely stuck to her principles but the painful consequences have dragged her down and she has now reached the point of having had enough. Politics is a rough old game and if you make life more difficult for yourself by throwing strongly held beliefs into the mix it becomes even tougher. For any Christian MP who takes their faith seriously this will inevitably be the case. Without others to share the journey with, it can easily become an overwhelming burden. Prayer, wise advice and good support networks could make all the difference between sinking and swimming.

If we want to see more rather than less Christians in Parliament holding firm to their faith, then they will need the backing of Christians around them, even if they don’t necessarily share their political viewpoint.  Without it they are likely to fall by the wayside as in Sarah Teather’s case. And politics will be no better off as a result.

Categories: Benefits & unemployment, Party politics, Social action

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27 replies

  1. Gillan your article raises a whole lot of issues. I totally agree with you conclusion that it is tough to be a Christian in politics, and such people need strong support networks. Although a member of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum (LDCF) Executive, I have only known that Sarah was a Christian over the last 6 months. Desperately sad about her decision (I had decided to throw my energies into her campaign and that of Maajid Naawaz rather than here in Banbury – where I see no chance of us winning) it challenges me (and I think LDCF) could we have done more to support Sarah? What more can those of us who are not elected, but Christians in the party, be doing to support all our Christian MPs?

    As an aside, I really agreed with Sarah on immigration and asylum issues, would have come out the same way on gay marriage. I am however in favour of benefits capping. The big problem is housing benefit, which is costly, unfair and inflates rents!. What this country needs most of all is affordable housing in the right areas, this needs to be a massive priority … yet another reason why I do not support HS2.

    Overall, I am very sad. Sarah had a tough seat to win in 2015 … but I think she would have pulled it off. She is a voice in parliament that we will miss very much.

    • Maybe this news from Sarah gives a chance for her to build relationships with the LDCF. She still has a year and a half to go and perhaps there is an opportunity to look at how Christian MPs can be supported with her and learn from her experiences.

      I too don’t agree with all of her views, but the good thing with Sarah is that you can see where she is coming from and that she has thought things through. We could do with a lot more people like her in that respect.

  2. A huge loss because we do need that strong voice that reflect Kingdom principles in parliament. I think most people go into Politics with a genuine desire to change things for the better, there is idealism and principles which somehow the system of Politics seems to grind out of people. Maybe its better she gets out rather than compromise those principles but sad that she is going nonetheless Certainly the need to support the poor and marginalised is as great as ever and the Liberals would do well to revisit their non conformist Christian roots. I agree alexbeyaz that affordable housing is the single most important policy in giving an incentive to work. A housebuilding programme is also a very effective way of stimulating the economy.

  3. As a Christian Socialist and Councillor I would like to see more Christians of the left in office. However if I had to choose between an atheist Socialist and a Christian Conservative, I would choose the atheist as someone who with his/here Socialist belief is nearer the Gospel.

    • Thanks Mike. There is an important point here that being a Christian does not guarantee that you will make a better politician than anyone else or you are any more likely to have the ‘right’ answers. There is much that comes from Christian values and an appreciation of the worth of all individuals amongst other things though that should cause Christians to be able to offer much to the political sphere that would benefit it.

      • I think it depends on what sort of atheist, tbh.

        There seem to be a range, from Peter Tatchell’s sexual “liberation” approach, through Dawkins’ aggressive (and uninformed) style, to thoughtful and humanitarian.

        I find myself, increasingly, with more in common with the considerate and compassionate Christian conservatives than with the aggressive, “do as I say” self-proclaimed Left. Which, as a someone who has been of the Left all my adult life, is a bit difficult. I can imagine that it is also very difficult for Ms Teather, and for David Alton, a predecessor as a high-profile Catholic in the Lib Dems. He was not well treated by Lord Ashdown.

  4. Gillan – thank you for this post and more widely for your support of those of Christian faith engaging in the world of politics of all parties and none. You and your blogging colleagues have helped to strengthen the presence in the public sphere for Christian voices.

    As Chair of the Lib Dem Christian Forum, I am saddened by Sarah’s decision not to stand for re-election in 2015 especially given the links that have been developing between LDCF and Sarah over recent times as witnessed in the delivery of this year’s LDCF Gladstone Lecture – you can find a transcript here .

    From the interview in The Observer it is clear that Sarah has been wrestling with this decision for a long time and her voting record on the government’s welfare reforms whilst still holding ministerial office would appear to support this. From the perspective of the party, this announcement coming immediately prior to this year’s autumn conference is not helpful in its timing but I feel certain is not one that Sarah has come to lightly.

    Many Christian politicians in all parties have commented that they have felt isolated with party colleagues not understanding their faith inspiration and many in the Christian community not understanding the necessary compromises that come with finding agreement on legislative and policy proposals. LDCF and our counterparts, the Conservative Christian Fellowship and the Christian Socialist Movement, are striving to provide more support to Christians involved in our respective parties but our resources to deliver this are smaller than we would wish.

    I would encourage all Christians and local Church congregations to positively engage with their local elected representatives at all levels and to support them in prayer whether or not they themselves share their Christian faith commitment. We are after all called to pray for those in authority over us even if we didn’t vote for them.

    And if you feel inclined to help support the organisations working within the three main parties in their work in supporting Christians in politics and building bridges between political parties and the Christian communities across the country, follow the links below, sign up to their email updates, pray for their work and maybe consider joining and/or donating to whichever of them you feel drawn to support.

    Lib Dem Christian Forum –
    Conservative Christian Fellowship –
    Christian Socialist Movement –

    • Thanks Matt for these comments which I completely agree with. I would also encourage churches to engage with their local politicians and also for individuals to support the work of the Christian groups within the political parties as they see fit.

      Our church has put on a prayer breakfast for our local MP. It was a worthwhile activity. The hard bit was persuading people to come. There is still a lot of apathy, which is disappointing.

  5. I think Party politics and Christians can mix (disclaimer: I am a Christian in the Labour Party), take Wilberforce (who was a Tory MP who led the campaign to abolish slavery) as an example! But we do need prayer! Prayer to respect those who are hostile, especially when some are for good reason, prayer nopt to compromise the Gospel, prayer not to get too caught up in tribalism and taking insults and jibes and bullying on the chin (never easy), and an acknowledgement that Westminster will never change for the better unless we work hard in changing it outside and in and that will take practical steps as well as simple prayer

  6. Thank you for such an informative question (and responses) Gillan!

    I believe the answer is ‘Yes’: they cannot mix at present because the secular is at odds with the Kingdom. Thus, the answers posited in your previous post on Jim Wallis may prove elusive. That post both vexed and stirred me to mull seriously over the main issue. Not because I’ve reservations about his theology but more because I doubt believers engaged with politics are as in touch with the Kingdom as they need to be for serving God’s purposes.

    In addition I’d received an email from an ordained friend of some years. Unbeknown to me, I’d stirred him up on this very matter! Also, you’d blogged about Lib Dems ‘doing God’! Referring to that post on my blog I was led to suggest, “Hopefully, we will see many more believers standing on the Rock in this new season”, being very mindful of an open vision of a Britain that confronted me 9 years ago ( refers).

    Such coincidences could suggest that the distinction between secular and Kingdom politics is becoming an important issue. This was hinted at recently by a teacher who knows the Lord intimately:

    “We’ve got to remember that when God comes, He doesn’t come to take your side but he comes to take over…which means we get fully exposed (if we’re not already transparent)…As a Church or nations, we have not seen Father turn up in a nation and take over yet. But I tell you there is going to come a day when that’s going to happen and, personally, I believe it’s very soon…He won’t take your side because He’s interested in His will”.

    • We can never usher in the Kingdom through politics and in that sense I agree with you. To me it’s more about being a light in all places. you can’t spread the Gospel through politics, but you can spread Kingdom values through law. The Old Testament law was for the Jews but also for the aliens living among them. If we want to serve the poor and the alien then we can and should do it through our churches, but we can also do it by creating Godly laws. I’m on a journey myself to see how much faith and politics can mix, so I’m still learning and making my mind up. What I do strongly believe is that politics could be a lot better and I don’t think the church should be on the sidelines watching from a distance or ignoring what happens.

      • Agree entirely Gillan, as you may note from quotations at close of my latest blog.

        Btw, the friend to whom I referred in this thread also mentioned OT roots, viz:
        “I believe that only government under God can provide all that humanity desires. How this can be expressed, I don’t really know, but I want to keep exploring so that as God gave the template to Israel, that the nations might seek after Him, so we His children and ambassadors in our generation may also be that light and salt which turns the nations to God.”

  7. Speaking as a basically non-Christian Lib Dem, I’d say that Christians (and members of any other faith) are probably no more or less likely to find their beliefs incompatible with party politics. It’s clear that a great many Lib Dems have left the party in recent years because they were unable to reconcile coalition with the Tories (and what they believe it is doing to the Lib Dems) with their principles. Some of them will have been Christians, but many will not have been.

    I think it is more likely to come down to the type of person you are, the intensity of your beliefs, the degree to which you can separate political compromises you have to make with personal compromises, the support you get, and a range of other issues.

    And of course, this applies to all the parties.

    I’m very sad to see Sarah Teather go, despite the fact that I think many within the party are justified in feeling betrayed by her vote on gay marriage. (A strong term, but one I think is reflective of at least some of party opinion.) Personally however, and although I think her vote was highly illiberal, it has to be weighed up against all the other things she has done. No one is anywhere near close to perfect, and if you look long enough, I’m sure it’s possible to find an issue on which you vehemently disagree with any politician. I accept that she didn’t make her decision lightly, and given that we can’t expect attitudes to change at the same rate for everyone, I just don’t think it makes any sense to continue to vilify her for her vote: on many other issues she has proven to be a thoughtful and compassionate MP and for me that’s enough to give her the benefit of the doubt on the issue of gay marriage. I disagree with the way she voted, but trust that she was at least struggling to do the right thing. You can’t really ask for a politician to do any more than that, and I hope she continues to play a role within the party even after her time as an MP is over.

    • I think your final paragraph makes very clear the difficulties Ms Teather has faced and the extent to which religious belief and contemporary political parties are becoming incompatible.

      Interesting that her objection to the reform of immigration control – the straw that seems to have broken this particular camel’s back – merits not even a mention in your ontribution.

      • I made no mention of it because I am in 100% agreement with her on it.

        The article was about the things making it difficult for Christians in general and Sarah in particular to feel able to continue her job as an MP. I applaud her stance on immigration – and this is one of the things that makes me proud of her contribution. I didn’t mention it because I was trying to honestly focus on an area of contention, and for me, her stance on immigration is not contentious.

        Although it obviously has become so for Sarah, I sincerely hope you’re wrong about religious belief being incompatible with politics. Politics desperately needs the involvement of all citizens – religious and non-religious. The point I hoped to make with my last paragraph was that despite disagreeing very strongly with her, I still value her contribution and want her – and others like her – to remain in politics.

        • ” I think many within the party are justified in feeling betrayed by her vote on gay marriage.”

          That’s the problem, Jonathan, right there. Denunciation of “betrayal” shows no tolerance, no respect for others, it indicates authoritarianism and steps down the road to tyranny.

    • I find your stance very difficult to understand. Sarah explained very clearly that she thought about this for months and came to the conclusion that, in the very long term, this was going to weaken marriage within society. Maybe she’s right. Maybe she’s wrong. None of us can know what the future holds for sure. But the Catholic Church has a track record of accurate predictions on these things – it accurately predicted the one child policy in China, which affects 1 in 5 women in the world. How is this a betrayal of the party? And how does it show lack of compassion? Is the definition of compassion now ‘agreeing with me so that I don’t feel undermined and my feelings don’t get hurt’? It’s this kind of inflexible attitude that’s pushing me further and further to the right, when, actually, I agree with Sarah on immigration and poverty.

      • Liz, the reason people consider it to be a betrayal (and though I would not use that word to describe my own feelings, I understand those who do) is best exemplified by one of many examples that we’ve had over recent months and years.

        Person X says quite simply: “I want to marry the love of my life. Sarah voted so as to deny me that possibility. Sarah voted to deny me a right that most citizens of the UK have.”

        I am not defining compassion as ‘agreeing with me’. Sarah has demonstrated compassion on numerous occasions, but on this issue, I can understand why people feel that she has not shown it. A fairly simple liberal principle is to not deny people the right or ability to do things that don’t hurt others. Another is to extend rights so that they apply to everyone. Sarah may or may not be right about ‘redefining marriage’ undermining the institution, but I think gay people are entitled to ask ‘if I personally am trying to enter a committed relationship, who is Sarah to be denying me this opportunity?’ Sarah is well within her rights to think that gay marriage undermines straight marriage, but her vote on a fairly abstract and vague principle has hurtful and discriminatory rammifactions for gay people here and now. Whether or not she or the Catholic Church are right about marriage in the long run (and if Buddhist marriage doesn’t undermine Christian marriage then I fail to see how another type of – from the Church’s point of view – non-Christian marriage would), it’s easy to see the breaking of Liberal principle here. Even if she can make a liberal case to argue the opposite.

        I don’t doubt that Sarah agonised over her decision (and I understand her reasoning that having come to a conclusion she should vote to demonstrate it). I also agree with Sarah on immigration and poverty (both issues I know that other people have felt betrayed by the party).

        And that is my point. I think there are good reasons for people to feel betrayed by Sarah on this issue. But people are imperfect and politics is imperfect. There is no way that anyone who becomes an MP can avoid, even with the best will in the world, deeply upsetting and offending some people. Democratic politics can only work if people are prepared to forgive (the compromises made by well-intentioned people trying but unable always to do the right thing), and if people understand that they will not always agree on what the right thing is. This is why I am saying that members of any party have to be willing to forgive what they regard as betrayals from time to time. Sarah has earned the benefit of the doubt. She has done much good work, and parliament has been a better place for her conviction politics. Which is why despite disagreeing with her on this, I am so sad to learn that she feels she can no longer continue.

      • I still don’t agree with you, Jonathan. It’s not true that everybody has the right to marry the love of their life. The right to marriage has only ever been between one man and one woman of mature years who are at present unmarried. There’s no point going over yet again all the relationships that excludes. The point is, marriage was never about being able to marry whom you love. It’s probably not a wise idea to marry someone if you hate their guts, but your personal feelings have never been of any interest whatsoever to the law. There’s no reason why they should be. What you’re trying to do is impose your own view of what marriage should be onto Sarah – and she doesn’t agree with you.

        Also there can be disagreement over what hurts others. If you believe that society as a whole is hurt by something like abortion, then you believe that people will be hurt. If you believe that changing the definition of marriage will hurt families in the long run, those families will involve individuals.

        This just looks to me like yet another examples of people not liking people disagreeing with them and trying to claim that person has broken some universal principle so that the concept of freedom on conscience no longer applies.

  8. @RuariJM (I can’t reply to your latest comment). Despite using the highly critical term ‘betrayal’ I hoped that the rest of my post – and other replies here – would show that I want to avoid authoritarianism and intolerance.

    I’m not sure what else I can say. People feel betrayed by her vote. Both religious and non-religious people feel betrayed by both religious and non-religious MPs all the time. Sadly, that’s not just the nature of politics, that’s human nature. That’s why withdrawing from politics is no long term solution. And that’s also why I have tried to make clear that despite feelings of betrayal, we (people in general, Lib Dems and gay rights activists in particular) should try to look at Sarah’s overall contribution to politics. Both to appreciate the work she has done that we do agree with, but also to try to understand that her stance on this issue does not come from a lack of empathy or interest in people. I am trying to argue for toleration, moderation, reconciliation and compromise. I am saying that despite feeling betrayed by Sarah on this issue, there remains plenty of reason for trying to see things from her perspective and to understand that this wasn’t easy for her and that she was attempting to do the right thing. In other words, I am arguing for those who see her vote as a betrayal to try to think of it, and of her, differently.

    • Jonathan, You should be concerned that you think such intolerance is ok.

      • RuariJM, perhaps I’m still not being clear… Perhaps you could explain what you mean?

        Toleration does not mean we have to like someone or something; just that we learn to live with it politely, rationally and as respectfully as possible. I don’t like the way Sarah Teather voted on the issue of gay marriage. I’ve explained why I understand that many liberals feel that given the party’s commitment to equality and toleration, they see her vote as betrayal – particularly those who are personally negatively affected by the status quo she sought to uphold. I understand her reasoning, for her vote, even if I think it was faulty.

        I have explained that despite this, I value her contribution as a compassionate person and as an MP. I have stated that I do not think it realistic to expect that everyone adjusts to changing social norms at the same pace, even if I find it hard to sympathise with their unwillingness to accept what I see as positive changes.

        That’s not support for Sarah’s voting on gay rights, but if that’s not toleration – or at least the struggle to display toleration – I’d be interested to know what you expect from me (or anyone else).

        Perhaps I could also turn this around and ask you: what would you say to a gay person who wants to get married to the love of their life, but is prevented from doing so because members of a church to which they do not belong are legally barring them from doing so? No church will be forced to conduct gay marriages unless it chooses to do so. No one is being forced to be gay. Gay marriage is not being forced upon anyone. You’re perfectly entitled to dislike gay marriage, but as an opponent (I presume) of gay marriage, how would you describe tolerance of the view you disagree with? By toleration do you mean that you’ll listen to gay activists and then do nothing and hope that they go away? Will you suggest some sort of compromise policy that might meet their needs? What does toleration look like for you?

    • Jonathan, what you say makes a lot of sense. We can’t expect politicians to get everything right or vote in a way that pleases us continually. Sarah voted in a way on the gay marriage issue that really upset some people, but she wasn’t the only one although she was singled out for a lot of abuse as a result. She’s not a bad person or a bad politician because of the way she voted and she or any other doesn’t deserve to be vilified as a result. I wonder how much the criticism affected her. Even if you’ve got thick skin it must get to you.

      Do we really want politicians who will never upset people?

      • Thanks Gillian, I totally agree. I’m not quite sure why Sarah does seem to have come in for more criticism than others. You’re right of course, politics without politicians who upset people would be terrible. In fact, it wouldn’t be politics! All of us – politicians, activists and ‘normal’ members of the public have to be more willing to accept the faults of others, and that we all live and work in a society – and in a political system – that demands compromise from everyone and working with people with whom we disagree fundamentally from time to time.

  9. @RurariJM – I demand – and hope to display – tolerance. I do not respect Sarah’s views or vote on same sex marriage, but I respect her, her right to come to her own conclusions, her right to cast a vote on an un-whipped issue and I respect her right to practice and promote (in the sense of talk about and tell everyone how wonderful it is) her religion. Tolerance isn’t about liking something you disagree with, but about – well – tolerating it. What exactly have I said that you consider to be a display of intolerance? Perhaps you could take the most damning phrase (the one immediately above, or any other I’ve written) and re-write it for me, so that I can see what you are expecting to see from someone who is tolerant? How am I supposed to express my thoughts on Sarah’s vote in a tolerant way, if the above is not it?

    On the other side, what I would expect from someone in Sarah’s position is not that they would promote or condone something they disagree with, but – as many did – to abstain. Abstention does not have to mean ‘I have no opinion / I don’t care / I don’t know’. It can quite easily mean ‘I cannot support, but nor will I prevent something of such importance to people from going ahead’. I do find it hard to understand her justification for attempting to impose her beliefs on what constitutes marriage on other people.

    I haven’t read the article you linked to, but was present during the conference hall for Callum’s question, so I’m pretty sure I know what is being referred to and I think it was offensive and inappropriate. He had a perfectly valid question to ask, but it did not require the insult he delivered with it. He was rightly rebuked by Alistair Carmichael when he answered Callum’s question.

    I attended the Gay, Lesbian, Bi & Trans-gender organisation’s party last night. (By party, I really mean a series of thank yous for various people who’d worked so hard to make same sex marriage possible.) Although I’ve always supported same sex marriage, I haven’t been actively involved with the campaign, so some of the people I met there I didn’t even realise were gay, and didn’t know what part they’d played. And it was incredibly moving. There were several couples in tears of joy that they can now marry. Brian Paddick told us about how he’d ended up marrying a woman (who he’s now divorced from, but still good friends with) because he so wanted to be in a real relationship, rather than be forced to have secretive and meaningless sexual encounters. He married his current husband in Norway, and the emotion in his voice as he told us about hearing the registrar use the word marriage was quite something. Another MP told us that every time he’d spoken out in support of gay marriage, he’d lost votes in his rural (and marginal) constituency, that he’d recieved masses of abusive hate mail, and been told that people were disgusted to have a gay representing them in Parliament. But a couple of days after the bill passed, he received a letter from a lesbian couple who’d been living together for 23 years in a small village in his constituency, saying that it was one of the happiest days of their lives. I’m not trying to repeat the arguements in favour of same sex marriage, rather present just a few examples of why this matters so deeply to people – and why it’s not surprising that they take great hurt and offence from people attempting to impose their own religious beliefs and restrictions upon people who may not even share the same faith.

    Now I’m quite certain that Sarah Teather (and other opponents of same sex marriage) didn’t and don’t want to hurt these people. But given the importance of being able to marry the one you love, it’s really not hard for me to see why some people feel so let down and yes, betrayed, by her. As I said originally, I wouldn’t choose to use the phrase myself, but that’s mainly because I don’t want to be unnecessarily divisive or condemnatory and, as I’ve said, I have absolutely no doubt that Sarah has always acted with the best of intentions. All I’ve said was that nor will I criticise for those who do feel betrayed by her on this issue, from saying so in that language.

    By the way – I bought a copy of ‘Lib Dems do God’ today, and look forward to reading it – it looks like there are lots of good people and interesting chapters within!

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