Why is Dave risking Tory civil war by pursuing same sex marriage?


2:17 pm - February 4th 2013

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by Phil BC

If it wasn’t churning up waters polluted by the most bigoted filth the Tory benches can muster, you could almost sit back, have a nice cup of tea and watch the Conservative Party tear itself apart over gay – or as I prefer to call it – equal marriage.

It was almost entertaining to read The Telegraph’s forensic job on the havoc it’s wreaking upon the party’s body politic. Constituency chairs stepping down and resigning, activists going on strike, around 180 Tory MPs set to abstain or vote against … on the surface it looks like the worst crisis the Tories have faced since Thatcher was ousted.

All this begs the question. If we are to take the protestations of the withering grass roots at face value and equal marriage is driving the activist base away, then why is Dave so determined to pursue such a self-destructive course? Presumably he would like to win in 2015?

I think there are four things going on.

Dave really believes in marriage, whether it’s between a woman and a man, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. As rare an instance it may be these days, here we have a party leader acting out of genuine conviction.

It’s therefore difficult to disagree with Michael Gove(!) who, batting for Dave in Sunday’s Mail says “It’s wrong to say to gay men and women that their love is less legitimate. It’s wrong to say that because of how you love and who you love, you are not entitled to the same rights as others. It’s wrong because inequality is wrong.” Well said.

But Dave is nothing if not the consummate politician. Equal marriage is much more than the disinterested pursuit of sincerely-held convictions – there are a couple of important political stakes in play. The first, and most obvious, is the attempt to move away from the ‘nasty party’ image. True, attacks on our poorest and most vulnerable people so millionaires can have a hefty tax cut isn’t something I would do if I was overly concerned with cultivating a compassionate conservative image.

But Dave is gambling that people really don’t care about attacks on social security and “skivers” and that it will all be forgotten in time for 2015 by when, he hopes, the economy will have picked up. At the price of the stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off types who infest the constituency associations, Dave must hope the swing voters lured by the liberal conservatism of his “hug a husky” phase will give him another punt.

The second, and probably the most overlooked aspect of the row is how it can, and is, strengthening his leadership. On the face of it the opposition talked up by the Telegraph looks serious. But, electorally speaking, equal marriage – like Europe – is a second order issue.

As has been pointed out, it’s not likely to have much of an impact on the Conservatives’ performance – and they may, in fact, gain more than is lost. Nevertheless, what we have here is a party leader going against what appear to be the immediate interests of his party. He’s caved to backbenchers on Europe and Lords reform, but not this time.

With Labour and LibDem backing the legislation (on the whole) Dave will get his way in the teeth of a feral but declining internal opposition. And once they lose the Commons vote tomorrow, the less able they can mount an opposition in the future. Just as victory emboldens an insurgency, defeat can work to demobilise one. With his internal enemies weakened or decamping, the less likely Dave’s Irritant Tendency can derail his plans for the remainder of this parliament.

Lastly, and to strike a conspiratorial tone; Europe, equal marriage, they’re all rather good for keeping the NHS and the economy out of the headlines.


Phil blogs more regularly at A Very Public Sociologist

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Reader comments


Lastly, and to strike a conspiratorial tone; Europe, equal marriage, they’re all rather good for keeping the NHS and the economy out of the headlines.

Not to mention that prior to the announcement of the consultation a number of holy men were coming out with condemnations of how the government’s economic policies were adversely affecting those with the least in our society. Now however all their time is spent attacking the possibility of same sex marriage. With saying that it’s worth bearing in mind that it was this and not things like Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax, the council tax fund cut (those 3 combined should soon bring back the usefulness of any old “can’t pay, won’t pay” badges anyone still has kicking about from the Poll Tax days), or the NHS reforms that got them up in arms. Cameron might well have calculated on this being a distraction issue, but it was the detractors that chose to fight this battle at the expense of any others. Worth keeping in mind their apparent priorities should there be any future dealings with them.

I suppose it will also help Dave to carry on being more popular than his party.

The more loony toons his backbenchers become, the more reasonable he’ll seem by comparison.

One thing I don’t understand about this debate is some of the terminology. Proponents of the change keep on saying that it’s about equal marriage. But looking at the proposed law, it actually establishes two-tier marriage.

Under the new law, those in opposite-sex marriages will have the right to divorce on the grounds of adultery, and the right to have their marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. Those in same-sex marriages will have neither right.

Basically, it seems somewhat dishonest to portray this legislation as being about promoting equal rights to marriage when it actually creates a new type of marriage which has different legal rights.

Are proponents of same-sex marriage misrepresenting the facts, ignorant of what the change actually entails, or just downplaying (for now) elements of the bill that they intend to lobby against as it goes through Parliament?

Under the new law, those in opposite-sex marriages will have the right to divorce on the grounds of adultery, and the right to have their marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. Those in same-sex marriages will have neither right.

Adultery is a specific legal term defined in common law that requires a penis to enter the vagina. Understand that a husband or wife receiving oral sex from a secretary (whatever the gender) are not committing adultery. It is correct to point out that a woman can’t cite adultery although her civil partner had sex with a man – nor can a man cite adultery although his civil partner had sex with a woman – but adultery as grounds for divorce is in decline. People tend to prefer going with “unreasonable behaviour”. Civil partners can also cite unreasonable behaviour.

Non-consummation is again something that can’t apply to same sex relationships because of its legal definition.

Those are two silly technical objections to gay marriage. Please don’t do the work of those opposed to gay marriage.

5. domestic extremist

“All this begs the question…why is Dave so determined to pursue such a self-destructive course?”

To beg a question is to assume that which has still to be demonstrated or proved. As it’s a not uncommon fault in argumentation, it’s worth keeping the phrase “begging a question” distinct from that other phrase and activity, raising a question.

Sorry if this sounds pedantic. But you did raise an intriguing question about Dave.

At least a third of Conservatives voting against will be doing so in order to placate their constituency parties.

At least a third of Labourites voting in favour will be doing so in order to placate … well, whom, exactly?

And the Bill itself will never reach Third Reading. Nor will this issue itself ever again be revived by any Government.

On the contrary, any future Government will do what they all do best to any inconvenient backbench initiative: ensure that it dies of sheer neglect.

As with the promise of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if the Conservatives win the next general election in 2015, I believe that Cameron’s proposals to legislate for same-sex marriage is yet another attempt to whip up more froth to divert public attention away from issues such as deteriorating healthcare standards in the NHS and the fragile state of the economy.

Good grief. The “consummation” argument against gay marriage brilliantly combines prurience and casuistry in equal measure, and succeeds only in making those who deploy it sound slightly deranged.

I am a gay man and I’ve seen many changes in legislation relating to sexuality. I grew up in Northern Ireland where consenting sex between two men became decriminalised in 1983. In fact I was 20 when the law was changed.

Personally I don’t think Cameron himself is very interested in this issue one way or the other. This might seem a surprise given that he has apparently placed the Conservative party in such turmoil over it.

I think that the secondary issues are important to Cameron. The main one being that in the campaigning for the 2010 general election Cameron promoted the Conservatives as a changed party. I think they got a lot of votes from the centre ground of politics and if they did not pursue this legislative change then they would lose those votes at the general election.

You might say, “well won’t he lose lots of votes to Conservative traditionalists?”.

I don’t think the damage will be as great as it seems today. The reason for this is that I’ve observed that these legilative changes in favour of gay rights create a huge amount of noise before they happen and during the debates in parliament, but once thy have happened the noise completely disappears. It is worth noting that as each legislation towards equality happens the opponents alway claim to be completely in favour of all the changes that took place prior to this one.

Cameron realises that by the general election the traditionalists will have forgotten about this and will have returned to the fold.

If he had not pursued this change in legislation then the supporters of equal marriage for gay people would have been campaigning continuously until the general election. This would have scared off many of the centre ground electorate who would feel they were conned by Cameron into believing the Conservatives were a changed party.

10. Shatterface

Under the new law, those in opposite-sex marriages will have the right to divorce on the grounds of adultery, and the right to have their marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. Those in same-sex marriages will have neither right.

The answer is to abolish ‘adultery’ or the need to establish any other cause as grounds for divorce, and to abolish the legal attribution of fault.

If a couple decide to split, that’s it, end of – it’s none of the State’s business who ’caused’ the split, only to ensure property is divided equally and that children, if there are any, are cared for.

‘Adultery’ is a religious taboo. Nobody likes to be cheated on but it’s none of the State’s business.

11. Robin Levett

@Green Christian #3:

Under the new law, those in opposite-sex marriages will have the right to divorce on the grounds of adultery, and the right to have their marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. Those in same-sex marriages will have neither right.

As a professed Christian; aren’t you supposed to believe that it’s a sin to lie?

If my husband inserts his penis into the vagina of a (third party) woman I can divorce on the basis of adultery; if he inserts it into the mouth or anus of a (third party) man or woman, I can divorce him on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. It doesn’t matter whether I am a man or a woman myself; I have precisely the same divorce rights.

As for consummation; that has a precise legal definition involving penetration of the vagina of the woman by the penis of the man. Since that is physically impossible for a same sex couple, there were three choices; amend the definition to take account of the physical issues; take account of the physical issues by providing that consummation has no legal relevance to same sex marriages; or make no provision, leaving each and every same sex marriage open to avoidance for non-consummation.

Nobody suggests that same sex marriages involve the same copulatory equipment as opposite sex marriages; so why should the law not take account of this?

Basically, it seems somewhat dishonest to portray this legislation as being about promoting equal rights to marriage when it actually creates a new type of marriage which has different legal rights.

Rightbackatcher…

Are proponents of same-sex marriage misrepresenting the facts, ignorant of what the change actually entails, or just downplaying (for now) elements of the bill that they intend to lobby against as it goes through Parliament?

No, it’s the opponents of same sex marriage that are misrepresenting the facts – as you did in the first section quoted above.

12. Shatterface

As with the promise of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if the Conservatives win the next general election in 2015, I believe that Cameron’s proposals to legislate for same-sex marriage is yet another attempt to whip up more froth to divert public attention away from issues such as deteriorating healthcare standards in the NHS and the fragile state of the economy.

You could make that same argument more convincingly if they opposed gay marriage: as Thatcher demonstrated stirring up hatred of homosexuals is an easier way of distracting people from economic woes than fighting for equality.

You can continue to dismiss legalisation of gay marriage as a cynical ploy on behalf of the Tories (despite the fact it is causing internsl divisions in the party and is alienating many of their core constituents) or you can support legalisation and help bring about a level of equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals that Labour thought was less important than protecting foxes.

13. Chaise Guevara

@ UKL

“Those are two silly technical objections to gay marriage. Please don’t do the work of those opposed to gay marriage.”

I assume Green Christian IS one of those opposed to gay marriage. You can generally tell from their habit of desperately trying to make a big deal out of irrelevancies.

14. Shatterface

One of the best things about Asperger’s is that I’m not preoccupied by suspicions regarding people’s motivations – so if politicians are proposing something that extends rights I don’t have to give a shit why they are doing it.

Neurotypical obsession with motivation verges on paranoia.

Personally I don’t think Cameron himself is very interested in this issue one way or the other.

Apparently he’s, um, evangelical on the subject. Marriage, both gay and straight, is one of the things he feels extremely deeply about.

Brendan O’Neill has it in one.

In Britain, gay marriage has become the mechanism through which Cameron seeks to do what all UK party leaders feel the urge to do these days – distance himself from his more traditional supporters and make a great display of the fact that he is New. New what? Doesn’t matter. Just being ‘New’, as in not old, as in not traditional or outdated, is all that matters in modern British politics. Party rebranding has elbowed aside party politics itself; rebranding is now the stuff of politics, having superseded ‘the issues themselves’ to assume prime position in the life of the Westminster village. That gay marriage could be so easily bent to serve the needs of a clapped-out, rebranding-hungry Conservative Party speaks volumes about the hollowness of this so-called cause, about its role as a shiny badge of modernity, a signifier of moral decency, which can be swapped amongst different sections of a visionless elite on the lookout for a new lick of paint.

http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13320/

“Equal marriage”?

No concept of consummation, presumably because no one could bring themselves to try and work out what it would entail, still less present a description of such a thing in writing to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent.

No concept of adultery, what little remains of it since the introduction of no fault divorce the last time that the Conservative Party was allowed anywhere near the government of this country. From the people who brought you abortion up to birth…

A category of legal marriage which cannot be solemnised by the Established Church.

And civil partnerships still available. Still available, specifically, to unrelated same-sex couples only, despite the deliberate lack of any sexual content, as there would also now be in a category of marriage. A jaw-dropping privilege, which they never even sought. Just as they have never sought this.

The debate is already indicating that there might be more Labour votes against than expected, and a very large number if the thing ever reached Third Reading, simply because the text of this Bill is so horrendous. Yet it cannot be any other way.

Just as well that, even leaving aside the outrageous provisions for non-scrutiny to which it is to be non-subjected, this Bill is never going to reach Third Reading, there to suffer a Labour three-line whip to abstain while giving a green light to backbenchers to vote against, not a principle, but a specific, unconscionable legislative text.

After which, precisely because the giving of legislative effect to that principle would be impossible in any other terms, the whole thing would never have been heard of again. As it is, though, that is just going to happen, anyway. Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the depths of the Palace of Westminster, this Bill is simply going to die. No one, no one at all, will mourn it.

Lindsay sounds a bit desperate.

Have you noticed how the cowardly BBC gives endless coverage of critics of govt policy if they come from the reactionary right wing? They can’t wait to line up all the fruit and bigoted nuts from the bone head section of the tory party. Radio 4 is turned into a cesspool of right wing shit as one pompous, pious tufton bufton is brought on after another like flat earthers to warn of Armageddon. Appeasing The Daily Mail, and Daily Mail lite (ie The Torygraph) seems to be BBC policy these days.

Contrast that with the virtual news blackout of criticisms from the left about the bill to privatise the NHS. And other policies. Apparently in BBC land only the Right can govern, and only the Right can oppose too.

It’s ironic that in two years the the evil Tories have gone further on gay equality than ‘progressive’ Labour did in 13.

@20 Well this is so far 1 change, and there were quite a few steps that were taken during the labour years. The equalisation of the age of consent, gay people no longer being barred from active service in the armed forces, civil unions, various workplace and service legislation, the abolition of section 28. There was a fair bit of nudging from the ECHR on a few of these issues admittedly, but the labour government wasn’t exactly resistive to the judgements that were past, even with the Opus Dei contingent.

Shame most people have the memory of a goldfish mind you, you’re not the first person to think we somehow had civil partnerships in 1997.

Futher to the point I originally brought up about adultery and consummation, these two provisions are the bits in law which presume that sex is a part of marriage. By not introducing the same-sex equivalents, the bill is stating that there is a qualitative difference between opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages.

As I said, I’m just confused by using the “equal marriage” tagline, when the bill clearly establishes that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are different. When the main argument advanced for introducing gay marriage is that civil partnerships aren’t equal to marriage, despite giving the same legal rights, it just seems a little bit odd.

400 to 175.

Green Christian,

By not introducing the same-sex equivalents, the bill is stating that there is a qualitative difference between opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages.

No the bill isn’t stating it, you are inferring it.

As I said, I’m just confused by using the “equal marriage” tagline, when the bill clearly establishes that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are different. When the main argument advanced for introducing gay marriage is that civil partnerships aren’t equal to marriage, despite giving the same legal rights, it just seems a little bit odd.

I don’t think you are confused, I think you are scraping the barrel because you object to gays being married.

I can but express astonishment over how much spleen has been focused on the issue of same-sex marriages compared with how little outrage has been shown over this item in the news:

Surrey woman left without care dies in hospital
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21340238

25. Robin Levett

@Green Christian #22:

As I said, I’m just confused by using the “equal marriage” tagline, when the bill clearly establishes that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are different.

To the contrary; they are exactly equivalent, certainly so far as adultery is concerned. Why do you want to change the definition of heterosexual marriage to add homosexual intercourse as adultery?

I would really like to know why the opportunity wasn’t taken to legalise polygamous marriages between consenting couples.

After all, polygamous and polyandrous marriage is recognised in other countries but there seems to be entrenched prejudice preventing this in Britain. If marriage is such a “great institution”, as William Hague insists, surely the more possibilities of marriage there are, the better for all. If we are going by the precedents set in the Old Testament of the Bible, King Solomon had seven hundred wives.

The problem I have with this debate relates to the definition of marriage and its effects.

What does it mean?

Does it relate to the law, to a religious concept or to how individuals (as couples)perceive themselves?

Same sex couples already have parity under the law through civil partnerships and there is no agenda, as far as I am aware, to compel religious organisations to homologate gay relationships.

So we are left with how individuals, and society at large, perceive those relationships.

If a gay couple wish to consider themselves married, that’s fine, but if they wish society to equate their relationship to that of a heterosexual one, they have the obvious problem that they cannot procreate. So whilst it can be argued that their relationship is equivalent to that of a heterosexual marriage, it cannot, because of this unfortunate fact, be the same.

To wish it could be so is, arguably, laudable but to pretend that a gay relationship is, in fact, precisely the same as that of a heterosexual one, is disingenuous.

As I understood it, the increasing demand for IVF treatments and surrogate mothers arises from the increasing incidence of infertility among married couples. If the capacity to procreate is the essential characteristic of marriage, does this mean that couples unable to procreate by normal means aren’t really married?

I always thought it was about capturing the middle ground. I’ve been living there for years and I aint seen Tory or Labour alike…but they are always banging on about it.

David Lindsay opines:

#6

“And the Bill itself will never reach Third Reading. Nor will this issue itself ever again be revived by any Government.”

#17

“Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the depths of the Palace of Westminster, this Bill is simply going to die. No one, no one at all, will mourn it.”

Result of first reading: 400-175 in favour.

Once again David Lindsay slips into the error of reasoning that because he thinks something, most of our elected representatives must be in agreement with him.

Thanks for the entertainment David. There are bigots, and there are delusionals, but few combine bigotry with delusion as expertly as your stupid self.

To wish it could be so is, arguably, laudable but to pretend that a gay relationship is, in fact, precisely the same as that of a heterosexual one, is disingenuous.

Fortunately, teh gayz aren’t doing that, it’s just a straw man.

@ Bob

If the capacity to procreate is the essential characteristic of marriage, does this mean that couples unable to procreate by normal means aren’t really married?

Sorry. What I should have said was

“If a gay couple wish to consider themselves married, that’s fine, but if they wish society to equate their relationship to that of a heterosexual one, they have the obvious problem that they cannot have the potential to procreate.”

clue: it’s not intended to be ‘equal’ as in ‘identical’.

@ UKL

it’s not intended to be ‘equal’ as in ‘identical’.

Ha Ha. That’s the point!!!!

Because legally it already is “equal”.

What is required, by appropriating the word “marriage” is to imply that it is identical. And it quite clearly can’t be.

As you admit.

Sorry. What I should have said was

“If a gay couple wish to consider themselves married, that’s fine, but if they wish society to equate their relationship to that of a heterosexual one, they have the obvious problem that they cannot have the potential to procreate.”

How is that ‘a problem’? There are plenty of heterosexual couples who marry past child-bearing age, or who don’t want children, or who are younger but unable to conceive. Are you considering those somehow invalid as marriages?

You are really scraping the barrel here. The presence or possibility of children has never hitherto been considered a necessary condition of a marriage’s validity, so why are you pretending it is one now?

pagar,

Ha Ha. That’s the point!!!!

Because legally it already is “equal”.

No, it isn’t. See page 4 of Same-sex marriage and civil partnerships briefing paper, House of Commons Library.

What is required, by appropriating the word “marriage” is to imply that it is identical. And it quite clearly can’t be.

As you admit.

No, that’s something you’ve inferred, not something that is implied. What is intended to be implied is that the relationships are equally valid, not identical.

see the case of Wilkinson and Kitzinger v the A-G (the A-G won)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2006/2022.html

e.g. Having referred in her first affidavit to the impending implementation of the CPA and the potential “downgrading” of her Canadian marriage to the status of a civil partnership under its provisions, she states:

“18…. I do not wish my relationship with Celia to be recognised in this way because we are legally married and it is simply not acceptable to be asked to pretend that this marriage is a civil partnership. While marriage remains open to heterosexual couples only, offering the “consolation prize” of a civil partnership to lesbians and gay men is offensive and demeaning. Marriage is our society’s fundamental social institution for recognising the couple relationship and access to this institution is an equal rights issue. To deny some people access to marriage on the basis of their sexual orientation is fundamentally unjust, just as it would be to do so on the basis of their race, ethnicity, and nationality, religion, or political beliefs.”

21…. “I want my marriage, and same-sex marriages more generally, to be recognised in Britain, and elsewhere, because I want to be able to refer to Celia as my wife and have that immediately and unproblematically understood as meaning that she is my life-partner with all the connotations and social consequences that using the term “wife” or “husband” has for a heterosexual couple. I want our marriage to be recognised institutionally by banks, insurance companies, the tax office, and so on. This symbolic status of marriage as a fundamental social institution is, in many ways, as important as its formal legal status. It provides for social recognition of key relationships, and to have our relationship denied that symbolic status devalues it relative to the relationships of heterosexual couples.”

Which heterosexual marriages are ‘identical’ anyway? I’d suspect a swinger’s marriage will be quite distinctly different in nature to a quiverfull’s.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ 20 Tory

“It’s ironic that in two years the the evil Tories have gone further on gay equality than ‘progressive’ Labour did in 13.”

Even if we restrict it to relationship issues alone, civil partnerships were introduced by the last government. That’s a much bigger change.

So it’s not so much “ironic” as “wrong”. You probably should have spent 30 seconds on Google before commenting.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 38 Cylux

“I’d suspect a swinger’s marriage will be quite distinctly different in nature to a quiverfull’s.”

Dare I google “quiverfull”?

41. Robin Levett

@Chaise #40:

Dare I google “quiverfull”?

They’re sort of the mirror-image of Marie Stopes:

http://www.quiverfull.com/

@40 Depends, are you a fan of clown cars? http://imgur.com/gallery/R0rCS

On a personal basis I have always quite liked Cameron. He has come out of this mess with honour. Although he far more to the right that his image.
Who hasn’t are the silent ones.
Nick Cohen, Martin Bright, Harry’s place David Toube and others in the press who write articles praising the new nice Tory party. Yet are silent on this issue, Mel Phillips attack on gays and Burchill’s vile piece.

Also Dave has shown to a brave PM because he goes against the grain of his party.
Blair did with the Iraq war, Major with Europe, Callaghan with his incomes policy, Kinnock with the GLC and clause 4.
Thatcher was not brave. Easy to shrill at the Ruskies behind yank missiles, easy to subdue miners with coppers batons and total press/broadcasting support. Also easy to take on the Argies with a nuclear fleet.
Wilson showed a lack of courage by not introducing Castle’s “In place of strife”


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