Gay marriage is still a surprisingly divisive topic, as has been demonstrated by the Tory party in the last few weeks. Ahead of today’s free vote in the House of Commons there has been widespread revolt from within the party, with many members resigning and many more registering their disapproval publicly and vocally.
David Cameron is keen to bring the conservative party’s image and politics forward a few decades, a laudable ambition, but he’s facing serious resistence from within his own party. Though it is technically a free vote (members can vote with or against their party’s stance) higher ups in the Tory party have been leaning very heavily on their members to try and get at majority of the party to support the same sex marriage bill.
The vote itself is likely to go through as it has strong support from Labour and the Lib Dems, as well as all those Tory members who have not tried to jump the fence (it’s estimated that slightly more than half of them will vote in favour. Maybe). Conservative members likely to abstain or vote against include cabinet ministers, junior ministers and government whips.
Divisions in the Tory party are mostly geographical, with urban MPs more likely to support the bill than those from rural constituencies. In the traditional Tory strongholds there is close to no support for a move to legalise gay marriage and though some adorably optimistic Tories have suggested this period in their party’s evolution will help attract younger, forward-thinking members, it’s hard not to see this as a crisis for the party.
The grassroots of the Conservative Party have registered literally hundreds of complaints with Downing street recently and many members have resigned their membership. Some, including elected councillors, are moving to other parties such as UKIP. This is a disaster for UK politics in general because the last thing we need is seasoned, experienced and electable politicians lending validity to fringe super-conservative groups such as the UK Independence Party.
Efforts to keep MPs in check in the House are rumoured to have included junior ministers implying to party back-benchers that a lack of support for the gay marriage bill might translate to a lack of support for said back-benchers’ careers later in life, you know wha’ I’m saying mate? This is coupled with some very strong rhetoric from party leaders. It would be a tough environment for opponents to weather if there weren’t such an amazing number of them. And the anti-gay marriage side are leaning pretty heavily on any MPs whom they perceive might be open to persuasion. Religious belief is thought to be the main sticking issue for most opponents.
If threatening somebody’s career over a ‘free’ vote in the House sounds extreme let me tell you it is nothing, but nothing, to some not-quite-threats from outside professional politics. A Tory blogger Iain Dale published a piece on his blog which read as follows:
I’ve been looking at the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s website, and their list of MPs who intend to vote against allowing gay people to marry on Tuesday. I note with interest the names of several MPs who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet case gays. And I note also the names of two supposedly straight MPs who I know to be conducting gay affairs at the moment. I don’t believe in ‘outing’ anyone, but because of the rank hypocrisy there will be others who will take a different view…How is it possible to be married yourself, and yet at the same time vote to deny that privilege to someone whose pants you have just pulled down?
Now, Iain Dale has made it very clear – numerous times – that he is not advocating outing everyone but it’s caused enough debate that one has to wonder if there are those who would. Outing someone is widely considered an utterly unacceptable thing to do to anyone for any reason but with the way this debate has heated up inside and outside Downing Street I wouldn’t be too surprised if it happened to someone. Disgusted with the outer(s), but not shocked.
We’ll post an update with the result after the vote later today. If it passes then we can all sit back and watch the bill struggle to survive the House of Lords, where more than half are likely to be against the bill. Pass the popcorn.