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History > 2013 > UK > House of Commons (I)



British House of Commons

Approves Gay Marriage


February 5, 2013
The New York Times


LONDON — The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Britain, indicating that the bill is assured of passage as it moves through further legislative stages.

But in a major setback for Prime Minister David Cameron, who championed the measure, it appeared that more than half of the lawmakers in his Conservative Party voted against it or abstained.

After a six-hour debate, the Commons vote was 400 to 175 for the bill. The legislation, which applies to England and Wales, would permit civil marriage between same-sex couples, but specifically exempt the Church of England and other faiths from an obligation to perform such ceremonies. Some faith groups, including the Quakers, have said they want the legal right to perform same-sex marriages.

The bill still has to pass in the House of Lords, where delaying tactics by opponents are possible, but Mr. Cameron has said he plans to have it enacted into law sometime this summer.

Although 127 of the 303 Conservative lawmakers voted for the bill, 136 voted against, with 5 abstentions and 35 who registered no vote at all. Those voting against included two cabinet ministers, eight junior ministers and eight whips. The opening to the revolt came when party leaders decided to make the issue a so-called free vote, allowing lawmakers to break with their party without fear of disciplinary action.

The bulk of the votes approving the measure came from the opposition Labour Party and the center-left Liberal Democrats, who are allied in an uneasy governing coalition with the Conservatives. While Labour suffered defections of its own, its parliamentary bloc voted overwhelmingly for the measure.

In modern times, however, few prime ministers have faced such an extensive rebellion in their own ranks, and the outcome seemed likely to add to the growing ferment among backbench Conservatives about Mr. Cameron’s leadership on a wide range of issues, including Britain’s shrinking defense budget and its increasingly uneasy ties with the European Union.

The divisions over same-sex marriage have been less vehement in Britain than in France, where a similar bill backed by President François Hollande has prompted demonstrations in Paris recently that have drawn tens of thousands into the streets. Discussions in the French Parliament have been equally impassioned, where a marathon debate on the issue, now in its second week, has featured angry insults across the floor of the National Assembly and more than 5,300 amendments.

By comparison, the debate in the House of Commons was mostly understated, with a strong undercurrent of realism among lawmakers who oppose gay marriage but sensed that the battle was already lost, not only in the crushing parliamentary majority favoring change but in a wide variety of opinion polls that have shown strong public support.

Nonetheless, some Conservative lawmakers added a strident note to Tuesday’s debate.

“It is not possible to redefine marriage,” said Sir Roger Gale, a right-wing backbencher. “Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to rewrite the lexicon. It will not do.”

Another discomfited backbencher, Edward Leigh, struck a note that carried a warning for Mr. Cameron, who spoke openly of his support for gay marriage almost as soon as he became the Conservative leader in 2005. “We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage,” Mr. Leigh said. “Otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for?”

Mr. Cameron is trying to modernize the Conservatives, and to position the party for general elections in 2015, when it will have to battle against a resurgent Labour Party riding high in the polls.

“Today is an important day,” he told reporters at 10 Downing Street before the vote. “I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other, and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too.”

“Yes, this is about equality,” he added. “But it is also about making our society stronger.”

A day after the newly confirmed archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, took office saying that he shared the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage, three cabinet officials said in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph that the new legislation was “the right thing to do at the right time.”

“Marriage has evolved over time,” the letter said. “We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution.”

The three ministers — George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer; Foreign Secretary William Hague; and Home Secretary Theresa May — also asked whether it was “any longer acceptable to exclude people from marriage simply because they love someone of the same sex.”

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said Monday that he would urge his 255 legislators in the 649-member body to vote with him.

“I’ll be voting for equal marriage for a very simple reason: I don’t think that the person you love should determine the rights you have,” he said.

British House of Commons Approves Gay Marriage,
NYT, 5.2.2013,




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