This is a picture of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, my MP. There are several reasons why I don’t like him. Firstâ€”and most obviousâ€”is that he’s a Tory, and just about the only thing I have in common with Conservatives is that we both like the colour blue. Secondly, he’s an archetypical Tory: he’s related to the 1st Viscount Ruffside, went to Eton, receives an income from properties in London and Norfolk, ‘flipped’ his second home to Gloucestershire, and of course he likes firing guns at things. Finally—and most annoyingly—I’m stuck with him. He’s been an MP continuously since 1992, and in 2010 he polled a majority of over 12,000, making him pretty much untouchable.
One more thing
Now I have one more: he voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which will undoubtedly pass in some form to legalise marriage between people of the same sex. We’ve had civil partnership for nearly ten years, so the next step is obvious (and seriously overdue). I’m not equivocating about this. I know that lots of people disagree, and I respect their rights to do so, but frankly they are wrong. Civil partnership has always been a fudge, and the universal entitlement to marry whomever one wants is fundamental. If religious people want to exclude a same-sex marriage from their place of worship then that’s fine (well actually it’s not fine, but out of scope for this post), but marriage is ultimately a matter of legal status, and it is this which should not be denied to anyone who wants it. As Maria Miller MP said when she moved the Bill’s second reading, ‘Parliament should value people equally in the law’.
What the thing is
The thing that really annoyed me about Clifton-Brown’s decision to vote against the Bill (and his own party) was this from his press release on the matter:
I fully support same sex couples to participate in civil ceremonies, which give them all of the rights and privileges that married couples have.
Clifton-Brown is such a supporter of civil partnership that he didn’t speak in the second reading debate for the Civil Partnership Bill, nor did he vote in the division. However, he was loyal to his party in voting against the legislative programme for the Bill. One would imagine that ‘fully supporting’ civil partnership would have emboldened him to vote with his conscience, as he has done with equal marriage. Perhaps his support has become fuller since 2004.
However I believe that marriage, whether it be civil or religious, is different because it is between a husband and a wife mainly with the aim of having children.
I don’t think it’s necessary for me to analyse such a statement in any particular depth: the logic is circular, and the implied morality is redolent of the quainter parts of the twentieth century. He clearly has his reasons for believing this but is unwilling to elaborate. Perhaps he is a religious man, and his convictions drive his opinion. If this is the case then he should say so. A bare assertion that ‘marriage is different’ is not sufficient justification for an attempt to block equality legislation.
The closing sentence of his press release did at least make me smile:
Although I fully respect all of those who hold this view very strongly, Parliament has now voted to allow same sex marriage to proceed and it remains to be seen what unexpected consequences that it will cause.
Bitter words indeed. ‘Unintended consequences’ are what amendments are for. I doubt any significant piece of legislation has been without its unintended effects.
Ultimately my point is that, as a legislator, Clifton-Brown should be unambiguous as to his reasoning when he votes against such an important Bill as this. If he objects on religious grounds then he should say so. If he’s concerned about particular side-effects of the Bill then he should state them. If he just doesn’t like the idea of two men getting married then he should say that too (although that would undoubtedly mean ‘bye-bye Geoffrey’). He has a responsibility to his constituency—and to the country—to think carefully when voting, and he should be absolutely transparent at every step.