Thank you for your recent email or letter about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
I firmly believe in marriage. Marriage is an important statement of love and long term commitment, and has long been the main way that the state and society recognise and show support for loving relationships. I believe that couples who love each other and want to make that long-term commitment to each other should be able to marry, regardless of their gender or their sexuality. Same sex couples should have the same recognition from the state as everyone else.
I appreciate that some people and religious groups take a different view. Freedom of religion is extremely important and all the main political parties are united in the belief that faith groups should be protected. I am pleased that freedom of religion is therefore rightly written onto the face of the legislation, meaning that no church, mosque or other faith group will be obliged to hold same sex marriage ceremonies if they do not wish to.
However, freedom of religion also means it is important that those churches and religious organisations that want to celebrate same-sex marriage are able to opt-in to doing so.
I do not believe it is acceptable for anyone to cite their religious beliefs as grounds for excusing themselves from their public duties. Were this to be enshrined in law, what guarantees would we have that teachers would not refuse to teach the scientific facts about, for example, the age of the earth because it contradicts the literal interpretation of creation provided by the Book of Genesis?
When the relationship between an individual and God starts to impact on the quality of life of others, that is when the state has a duty to act to ensure that all citizens, irrespective of race, sex, sexuality, or political or religious belief, receive the same level of service expected by everyone else.
It has been suggested that supporting the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is to advocate an “attack” on existing marriages, and that existing marriages require “protection” after the Bill is enacted. Yet no-one has yet explained how this “attack” will manifest itself. Extending the right to marry to gay couples will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on any existing marriage, which will require no ”protection” from the state after the Bill becomes an Act.
I received a number of requests from constituents to support the amendment calling for the public to be consulted in a referendum before the Bill is enacted. These constituents claim that such a vote is necessary because same-sex marriage was not included in any party manifesto at the last election. I did not do so. We live in a Parliamentary democracy. Parliament is frequently and inevitably called upon to pass judgment on issues which were not explicitly flagged up in party manifestos. Same-sex marriage is an issue of fundamental human rights. It should not, therefore, be subject to a popularity contest.
As it happens, the evidence from any number of polling organisations would suggest that opposition to same-sex marriage – in my constituency as elsewhere – is confined to a minority.
I completely understand objections to Labour’s decision to impose a whip during some of the votes on some of the amendments at the Report Stage of the Bill proceedings this week.
However, I can assure you that I did not change my vote on any issue as a result of my party imposing a whip.
I am pleased that there was a free vote for Members of Parliament on the issue at the Second Reading of the Bill which was carried by 400 votes to 175 votes, a majority of 225.
I voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill.
I voted according to my beliefs and conscience on all the various amendments considered at the Report stage this week.
I am pleased that there was a free vote on the Third Reading of the Bill which was carried by 366 votes to 161 votes, a majority of 205.
I also voted according to my beliefs and conscience in favour of the Bill at Third Reading.
I accept my responsibility to represent my constituents in Parliament. On an issue like this, however, it is simply impractical to vote according to the wishes of all 88,000 of my electorate, particularly when less than one per cent of them have been in touch to express a view.
I am not Ilford South’s delegate to the House of Commons; I am its representative. That means that where I make a decision with which a majority or a substantial minority of my constituents disagree, I can be removed at the subsequent election. I understand fully the sincerity with which opponents of same-sex marriage hold to their views and I am prepared to face the democratic consequences of their disappointment at the next general election.
Mike Gapes MP