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Where do Lib Dems really stand on gay marriage?


11:20 am - July 22nd 2010

by Soho Politico    


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Recently, Simon Hughes spoke to this issue in a video interview, then widely reported – e.g. by gay media outlet Pink News – that Hughes had indicated that gay marriage will happen in this parliament.

However, that is a rather optimistic assessment of what Hughes actually said.  Indeed,  Hughes actually dampened expectations that gay marriage would be adopted as a matter of Lib Dem party policy, let alone coalition policy.

Hughes’ full answer on gay marriage can be seen here:

Notice that the only concrete step towards gay marriage mentioned by Hughes is a ‘consultation’ by the coalition government, which had anyway already been previously promised by Lynne Featherstone

Whether or not gay marriage ever sees the light of day depends, then, on how the consultation is handled by the coalition, and what its outcome is.  Hughes doesn’t venture a guess on that – indeed, he says that he doesn’t know what the outcome of discussions over gay marriage will be even within the Liberal Democrat party

So, whilst he has some warm words to say for gay marriage, and speculates that we ‘should’ be able to get it in this parliament, he is certainly not committing to anything beyond the consultation as yet.

Moreover, Hughes implies that he would rather gay marriage were not adopted as a matter of whipped, Lib Dem policy, but were instead put forward as a mere free conscience vote.  He says:

I think that every Liberal Democrat MP will be free to come to their own decision. I don’t think this will be a whipped vote matter, because there are matters of conscience around these issues, and I am keen that we don’t say every single item is a matter of party policy.

Now, at the beginning of this year, Nick Clegg announced that he was a supporter of full gay marriage.  So it was a matter of considerable disappointment when the issue was omitted from the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 manifesto. 

At the time, the explanation for this was that there had not been time to debate gay marriage at the Lib Dems’ Federal Conference.  Pink News was told that, eventually, gay marriage would be debated, and would be adopted as a policy commitment.

Hughes’ comments now suggest that he thinks a pro-position on gay marriage will not become a matter of Lib Dem policy at all.  To be sure, that does not mean it will not happen.  And gay marriage could still pass on a free vote, even if Lib Dem MPs were not whipped into supporting it.

Nonetheless, though, the Lib Dem position on gay marriage is a good deal more ambiguous than some reports suggest. 

There is certainly no call for LibDemVoice to run the details of Hughes’ interview beneath the headline: ‘Simon Hughes: Coalition Government will legislate to allow gay marriage’.

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Reader comments


Again, I must point out, marriage equality will be up for debate at this years conference, and given us Lib Dems tend to be nice sorts despite what some would have you believed, should pass.

The real question is will David or Ed Miliband, who have been rubbish on marriage equality issues, actually pull their fingers out and get Labour to start considering ACTUAL equality rather than silly half measures? Where does Labour REALLY stand on full equality?

Of course the Tories are an entirely different kettle of fish. They’ll come along in 2030 and announce their full support, I have no doubt…

The Lib Dem Voice post has a direct quote from Pink News, if Pink News reported it wrongly, you can’t blame LDV for picking it up and directly quoting them for doing it.

he says that he doesn’t know what the outcome of discussions over gay marriage will be even within the Liberal Democrat party

Well yes, you see, the joy of being a democratic party is that one person doesn’t get to make the decisions. Indeed, there’s a tendency in conference to be a lot less likely to back stuff if the leadership have been going around saying “oh, Conference’ll definitely vote for it”.

If it’s at Autumn, and I’m able to attend, this voting rep will be voting for it, if there isn’t time in Autumn, it’ll become party policy at some point soon, and if it’s not been legislated on this Parliament (and I hope it will be), then it’ll almost certainly be in the next manifesto.

Strange article,b oth balanced and informed but at the same time with a few blindspots when it comes to how democratic decision making processes actually work. Hughes is allowed to have a personal view about what should and shouldn’t be matters of party policy, he’s the Dep Leader of the Parliamentary party, doesn’t speak for me, nor for Conference.

3. George W. Potter

Further to what has been said in comments one and two, I would just like to point out that my local lib dem councillor (Chris Ward) has recently started a campaign to lift the gay blood donation ban – his proposal wasn’t taken up by the party as a whole but only because the blood donation policy is under review by the NHS. So, while we may not be as active in seeking equality for homosexuals as I may like, we are far better than both Labour and the Tories. Hence, unless he’s a Green, I believe there’s some sort of saying about pots and kettles which should apply to Soho Politico here.

4. George W. Potter

As a more general comment about Liberal Conspiracy, I find that partisan anti-Liberal Democrat posts like this are becoming more popular whilst no one seems to have thought to mention, for example, the closing of the families’ wing at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre – odd as the plight of those in Yarl’s Wood was once a pet topic of LC.

Why is gay marriage a matter of conscience, and raising VAT, privatising the NHS & diverting money from comprehensive schools in deprived areas to private schools in rich areas not?

This idea that some votes are moral issues and others are not always annoys me.

#4 People have mentioned it, but I think most people are holding their fire until the outcome of the review on child detention. There are a number of issues to resolve that remain outstanding and although I welcomed the initial announcement, I’m sceptical about the end result. For example, if all this means is families will be split up and children institutionalised, there will be clear downsides to the policy.

TIm, it comes from times when the parties would split very differently on some (religious, mostly) issues. Abortion is an issue of conscience because there’re a lot of catholics in Labour, etc etc.

Given that I favour STV, I actually don;’t mind the idea in principle, but only if we can get an electoral system that allows us to chose within parties for candidates.

However, Lib Dems have been known to reject such appeals, Vince asked Conference to reject making faith schools an issue of party policy and keep it to conscience, conference, rightly, voted no to that (I don’t like the compromise policy created, doesn’t go far enough, but I do like that, finally, we had a policy on it).

I’m told the motion friends in DELGA sponsored has been accepted for debate at Autumn, so it can become party policy (this doesn’t of course, mandate the MPs, who’re bound by the manifesto and the coalition agreement, not by votes of conference subsequently, but it will ensure it can be prominent in the next manifesto and gives a nice incentive to the MPs).

@Jae,

If gay marriage becomes party policy, that will clearly be very welcome news. The issue here is simply that Hughes’ comments were not aptly reported. What he really predicted was that gay marriage would not become a matter of whipped party policy, and, indeed, that he was ‘keen’ to avoid too many whipped votes on conscience issues. That represents a much more watered-down commitment than the one he was reported to have given. Now, I have already said that gay marriage may well become party policy anyway. But that is no reason to overlook the fact that the party’s Deputy Leader effectively discounted the suggestion that it would be, or to put words in his mouth. Lib Dems may indeed be nice sorts, but your leaders have, as I say, given mixed signals.

@MatGB:

The Lib Dem Voice post has a direct quote from Pink News, if Pink News reported it wrongly, you can’t blame LDV for picking it up and directly quoting them for doing it.

I think it is not too much to ask that LDV would take 1 minute 32 seconds to listen to their own Deputy Leader’s words before writing them up.

Hughes is allowed to have a personal view about what should and shouldn’t be matters of party policy, he’s the Dep Leader of the Parliamentary party, doesn’t speak for me, nor for Conference.

Fine, but once again, the point is that he predicted that a pro stance on gay marriage would *not* become party policy, and this was lost in translation (at best).

@George W. Potter,

unless he’s a Green, I believe there’s some sort of saying about pots and kettles which should apply to Soho Politico here.

Well you can try and say it, but the truth is that I have strongly criticised the Milibands for not being sufficiently pro marriage equality, on the pages of this very website.

@MatGB:

I’m told the motion friends in DELGA sponsored has been accepted for debate at Autumn, so it can become party policy (this doesn’t of course, mandate the MPs, who’re bound by the manifesto and the coalition agreement, not by votes of conference subsequently, but it will ensure it can be prominent in the next manifesto and gives a nice incentive to the MPs).

So let me get this straight: even if the Federal Conference votes to adopt gay marriage as policy, this does not bind your MPs, who can still vote on their consciences if the issue comes up in the Commons. So, to translate: what really matters for the prospects for gay marriage is the Deputy Leader’s prediction that it will be on a free vote, and not the red herring of what the FC may be planning to vote on in the autumn. Is this correct?

There are MPs and activists in all political parties who do not support gay rights because of how they interpret their religion. There are also many who interpret their religion and come to the opposite conclusion.
But be rest assured about one thing. The overwhelming majority of LD party members, activists and MPs support gay marriage and would like that to be the policy of government at the earliest opportunity. It really is as simple as that.
The only significant block is a section of right wing Tory MPs, but they do not have the numbers to defeat this. All they can do is delay the inevitable.

#5, yes, exactly.

I think instead of “votes of conscience”, MPs shouldn’t get to vote against rights for minorities or oppressed groups that they’re not part of. So non-LGBTQ MPs would all abstain on gay marriage, male MPs would abstain on abortion, etc. It would be fairer than the vote of conscience thing, and make about as much logical sense.

OK, I’ve watched the video twice now.

the point is that he predicted that a pro stance on gay marriage would *not* become party policy

Where, when, how? He gave a personal view, and said he couldn’t predict. Exact quote saying what you say he said, or stop blowing smoke, you’re doing exactly what you accuse LDV of doing.

even if the Federal Conference votes to adopt gay marriage as policy, this does not bind your MPs

Oh FFS.

MPs are bound to represent their constituents as they see fit, and consider themselves bound by the manifesto they stood on. The Coalition agreement clearly as a compromise replaces the manifesto on those areas it covers.

Conference sets party policy, and it is party policy that gets included in the next manifesto.

It would be fundamentally wrong and anti-democratic for a party to change its policies post election and then mandate MPs follow something they haven’t got the backing of the electorate on. MPs do have the backing of the electorate to exercise their own judgement.

I’m a democrat, I believe in giving people their say. I’m a liberal, I believe in complete equality and the Rule of Law.

I don’t believe in mandates and delegating, that way madness lies.

Knowing the Parliamentary party the way I do, I’m fairly sure most of the MPs will vote for it as a matter of consience, but it would be fundamentally, horribly wrong to mandate MPs post election to do something they didn’t stand for election on.

I have refused to sign motions attempting to do this already, and will continue to make this point, mandating is wrong.

I hope that’s written clearly enough so that you can’t twist my words into something else, and I hope my commitment to actual democracy within a liberal context is also clear.

When legislation passes on conscience votes it is usually something that large (normally senior) sections of the government want, and are prepared to give adequate parliamentary time, research support, and help with legislative drafting. See for instance both the Abortion and Sexual Offences Acts of 1967.

What the Lib Dems can do now, if they want to keep it a conscience issue, is ensure that a bill is actually brought next session and given adequate time to pass. Government ministers such as Lynne Featherstone (or indeed Nick Clegg) could speak in favour of the measure at the eventual debates.This would give the legislation a very good chance of getting through.

However, with parliamentary maths as it is at the moment there would need to be a lot of cooperation with labour allies, and with (this could actually be key) sympathetic tories.

14. Rhys Williams

Well according to Nick Cohen,
Liberals are irrevelant.
Economic liberals Tory
Social Liberals Labour.
You are working with the most anti gay home secretary in living memory, oh shit I forgot Ruth Kelly

15. Rhys Williams

Matt GB,
You are sounding more like a coalition spin doctor every day.
What do they say about power corrupts ?

Rhys, I have no power, and if you think my fairly perpeutal attacks on Michael Gove, for example, are me spinning the coalition line, then your ability to reason is lower than your ability to spell.

But if you’re going to quote Nick Cohen, you can fuck off, because he seems to forget those of us that are just liberal. And fails utterly to comprehend the meaning of the word.

@MatGB:

Where, when, how? He gave a personal view, and said he couldn’t predict. Exact quote saying what you say he said, or stop blowing smoke, you’re doing exactly what you accuse LDV of doing.

The quote from Hughes is already in the post, you are ignoring it. It is this:

I think that every Liberal Democrat MP will be free to come to their own decision. I don’t think this will be a whipped vote matter, because there are matters of conscience around these issues, and I am keen that we don’t say every single item is a matter of party policy.

Hughes predicts that this will not be a whipped issue, but a free vote issue. He uses the term ‘party policy’, and seems clearly to mean by that ‘policy on which MPs are whipped’. The alternative – that ‘party policy’ should be read as referring to what the FC will later vote on – does not strike me as at all plausible. Hughes was asked about what the *Lib Dem parliamentary group* will do. Meanwhile, you are the one blowing smoke, by pretending that he had just given a personal view on what he would like to see happen. He doesn’t: he predicts what he thinks *will* happen.

Oh FFS.

MPs are bound to represent their constituents as they see fit, and consider themselves bound by the manifesto they stood on. The Coalition agreement clearly as a compromise replaces the manifesto on those areas it covers.

Conference sets party policy, and it is party policy that gets included in the next manifesto.

It would be fundamentally wrong and anti-democratic for a party to change its policies post election and then mandate MPs follow something they haven’t got the backing of the electorate on. MPs do have the backing of the electorate to exercise their own judgement.

I’m a democrat, I believe in giving people their say. I’m a liberal, I believe in complete equality and the Rule of Law.

To be honest, I don’t see why you think it is more democratic to let MPs vote however the hell they like rather than be bound to vote in line with the post-general election decisions of their conference. In either case, what seems important for democracy is just whether the electorate have been forewarned how an MP will vote on matters not covered in the manifesto – according to party lines, or personal preference. (And note that we are talking about creating a new policy not covered in the manifesto here, not, as you imply, going back on an existing manifesto pledge post-election. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto didn’t commit the Lib Dems *not* to introduce gay marriage, after all).

Anyway, though, this is all irrelevant stuff on your part. My post notes that Hughes predicted that gay marriage will be done on a free vote, if a vote comes up. In response, you and other Lib Dems in the comments drew attention to what the FC will vote on this autumn. But this is of no relevance, since, on your own admission, the FC doesn’t tell Lib Dem MPs how to vote. Pointing to what the FC may or may not do is no answer.

The bottom line is: Hughes was asked whether Lib Dem MPs would ‘fight’ for marriage equality, and he didn’t say yes. He said that they’d follow their consciences.

it would be fundamentally, horribly wrong to mandate MPs post election to do something they didn’t stand for election on.

Given the policies that Lib Dem MPs are now voting to introduce, under a whip, having campaigned vigorously against during the GE, this statement beggars belief.

Ok, if I rephrase it slightly, it would be fundamentally wrong for conference to mandate how MPs should vote. Labour tried that for a bit, even had some constituency parties mandating their MPs, doesn’t work, we don’t live in a mandatory democracy, we elect representatives, not delegates, basic fundamental principle of the British system, and indeed every other parliamentary system I’ve studied (there might be some that do this I don’t know of, but I doubt it).

Your post asks the question “where do the Lib Dems stand on gay marriage”, then uses one interview with one person, who doesn’t make policy, giving a personal viewpoint, and have decided that Hughes speaks for the entire party.

If you’d asked “how will the Lib Dems vote” or “will LD MPs campaign explicitly for this”, then the rest might be fair analysis, but you want to know what the party says, that’s the title and the question posed.

You are right, they didn’t stand for election against gay marriage, nor did they stand for it, thus it is a matter for each to decide on, and I’ve answered that question above.

Hughes is the deputy leader of the parliamentary party within the house of commons. That’s it. He doesn’t make policy, he doesn’t even decide how the group will vote on free vote issues. So taking one 2 minute interview and running this as if it proves the LDs will vote against is, well, weird.

On a matter of conscience, MPs will do as they see fit, and I’ve no doubt some, if not many, will actively campaign for this, and will use the conference mandate to do so. But the Conference vote cannot mandate MPs to beahve in any way. It can advise them, it can request them, but it cannot mandate them.

That’s how British democracy works. Feel free to write an article about the constitution and set out how horribly wrong this is, but until this is chagned, you’re blowing smoke and clutching at straws.

I’m glad I’m a member of the only UK party to support gay marriage 100% – it fills me pride.

20. Shatterface

‘I think instead of “votes of conscience”, MPs shouldn’t get to vote against rights for minorities or oppressed groups that they’re not part of. So non-LGBTQ MPs would all abstain on gay marriage, male MPs would abstain on abortion, etc. It would be fairer than the vote of conscience thing, and make about as much logical sense.’

Why would al LGBTQ MPs get to vote on laws effecting only transgendered people? Why would transgendered people get to vote on marrages between two cis men? In matters effecting gay Muslims, would all Muslim and gay men get half a vote each if they only belong to one half of that constituency or would they be excluded for not meeting every criteria? Are Scientologists to police themselves? What about one legged Buddhists or Ginger atheists?

And who decides which people are members of those voting communities? Do people automatically become part of their ethnic voting block whether they like it or not or is it voluntary? What about those with a mixed background?

This is about the worst form of multi-cultural communalism I can think of. Screw thinking about people as blocks, just recognise you have no right to restrict somebodies liberties if they pose no direct harm to others.

Abortion is an issue of conscience because there’re a lot of catholics in Labour, etc etc.

What tim f said. Sorry but abortion isn’t a matter “of conscience” any more than economic equality is. If you want to the state / religious bodies to be able to control people’s lives – join the Tories.

Sunny, each party picks what is and isn’t matter of conscience, Labour says abortion is because of the catholic voters that they need in many areas.

Like I said, STV would make it a lot more legitimate, as it is I’m not as keen on it, but it is the way it is.

Also? Explaining something isn’t defending it, although I admit I partially am, but within a wider reform context. It’s the parties that decide these things. I took part in a debate that removed faith schools from a conscience issue for LDs and made it a matter of party policy, I will doubtless do so again for other issues.

I don’t know if the party has a line on abortion TBH, although it’s fairly clear where most of the MPs are, perhaps might be worth looking at making sure it has one.

One little point. When people like Abbot and others voted against the party line on detention without charge and similar most of us (including you) praised them, but now you’re saying MPs shouldn’t vote against the party line?

Can’t have it both ways mate 😉

@MatGB,

I’m getting pretty frustrated with this, so this will be my last response. Frankly, you are being a bit ridiculous.

Your post asks the question “where do the Lib Dems stand on gay marriage”, then uses one interview with one person, who doesn’t make policy, giving a personal viewpoint, and have decided that Hughes speaks for the entire party

I didn’t say he speaks for the entire party. Frankly, given the Lib Dems’ bizarre push-me-pull-you constitution, it is impossible to know who does speak for the party at any given time. Certainly not it’s leaders, we are told. Whatever.

The fact is, it is worthy of note when the Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems (who is, we assume, well-placed to know such things) predicts what the parliamentary party will do on gay marriage. Or do you disagree? Lib Dem Voice thought it was worthy of note, since they too wrote a post about it. Or was what Simon Hughes has to say only worth commenting on when he was being interpreted as predicting greater strides towards gay marriage than in fact he did?

If you’d asked “how will the Lib Dems vote” or “will LD MPs campaign explicitly for this”, then the rest might be fair analysis, but you want to know what the party says, that’s the title and the question posed.

No. On the most reasonable interpretation, the Lib Dem position at issue here is the position of the *parliamentary* party. When asking what the Lib Dems will do re: this or that, I dare say most people have in mind the MPs. Since you yourself have said that, on non-manifesto issues, the MPs are not beholden to the decisions of the party at large, why should the rest of us be interested in the latter?

So taking one 2 minute interview and running this as if it proves the LDs will vote against is, well, weird.

I didn’t say that it proves that at all – you are just blatantly making shit up. To reiterate, for the umpteenth time: it was reported that Simon Hughes had said that the coalition will be legislating for gay marriage in this parliament. He didn’t. In fact, he couldn’t even say that Lib Dem MPs would ‘fight’ for this issue, as the questioner asked. He said he thought they would vote on their consciences.

So: we have a situation in which the Lib Dem leader has personally announced his support for gay marriage, but we are told he doesn’t speak for the party. The party will, apparently, vote on the issue in autumn, but that doesn’t mean anything for how MPs will vote within the lifetime of this parliament. The Deputy Leader predicts a free vote, not a whipped vote (though he doesn’t speak for the party either!). All this adds up to an *ambiguous* Lib Dem position, as I said. You cannot sensibly deny any of this.

I don’t. I have however managed to get you to say what you mean.

However, I’ve noted of late here and elsewhere I’ve beena little grumpy, not just on LD stuff, but generally, so apologies for tone, if not actual approach, being pedantic isn’t the best approach, and you’re right to say Simon is vague. There’s a reason why my preference for the dep leadership was ‘anyone but Simon’, but all the likely hitters are ministers except him and those that ruled themselves out 🙁

Specifically, the bit that wound me up was when you said

Hughes’ comments now suggest that he thinks a pro-position on gay marriage will not become a matter of Lib Dem policy at all

Which palpably isn’t the case. Sure, you’re referring to what the Parliamentary Party will do within the commons, but the Parliamentary Party doesn’t make Lib Dem policy and, thankfully, Simon doesn’t either.

I guess on reread that you meant the PP is implied, but it’s not what you said and, like I said, I’m in a grumpy mood for no reason.

Can’t have it both ways mate

Oh I’m not trying to have it both ways 😉 I’m saying Labour was wrong to push for 42 days and it is wront to say abortion is simply “a matter of conscience”. If the party believes in equality, then as SP has also said – gay marriage and abortion is part of that equality.

The precedent for “Vote of Conscience” on this issue was set long ago. You can argue that it shouldn’t apply, but it probably won’t stop the legislation from passing when it comes the vote.
As things stand, probably about 1/2 Tory MPs, 4/5 of Lib Dem MPs and 4/5 of Labour MPs support gay marriage.
So when it comes to the vote it will probably get through, even allowing for errors in my very rough estimates.
I don’t see the point in this article on picking on the Lib Dems. There is no pressure on them in the coalition agreement or from public opinion to sell out on this issue.

I suspect that Cameron and Clegg both privately support gay marriage, but that Cameron fears alienating supporters. However in a few years time when liberal-minded Conservatives and Lib Dems alike are abandoning the coalition by the droves as the spending cuts really start I bite I bet suddenly a gay marriage bill will be brought forth, and be put to a free vote in the Commons as a way of getting such liberal-minded voters back on board. Its a policy that has great appeal to a certain constituency of voters, is relatively uncontroversial at this point (the right will complain but who else are they going to vote for? No right-winger is going to abandon the Conservative Party over gay marriage) and which is, best of all from the POV of the government, free.

Call me a cynic, but wait for this one to come up when the coalition needs a boost.


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  4. Soho Politico

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  5. Annie B

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  6. GLBT World News

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  8. Annie B

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