Why I voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

I voted against the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill today with considerable sadness. Some things have been said with which I do not wish to be associated.

My strong view has long been that the government should get out of marriage. I am not alone. In December, Matthew Parris set out essentially the same view in The Spectator and showed that it works in South Africa: Gay marriage the easy way. For The Telegraph, J P Floru explained that one “can quite easily defend the position that the state ought not to be involved in marriage at all” before dealing with the fact that it is involved. The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman replied in support, concluding, “the next push has to be for true freedom for everybody: for the state to get out of marriage altogether.” Today, I found a good number of colleagues who agreed.

That is what ought to be done. The state should confine itself to providing one secular relationship which deals with the traditional property rights issues and leave private institutions to define marriage on top. That is how to deliver equality before the law, freedom to marry and tolerance for diverse views.

Instead, what we have is a mess, which my predecessor Paul Goodman describes well here. The relevant section is Schedule 4 Part 3. It turns out the Bill does not even, for all the trouble it has caused, deliver equal marriage. It provides two relationships with the same name: one subject to consummation and adultery and one not. And it still leaves in place civil partnerships which are not open to heterosexual couples, something which would probably not stand up if tested.

Furthermore, the use of state power without any meaningful democratic mandate to reform so fundamental an institution is wrong — indeed David Cameron said he had no plans to redefine marriage just three days before the election. Believers in traditional marriage have just cause for complaint in these circumstances. It is not as if the measure is a response to some emergency.

As a Christian, I am well aware of the Biblical view of marriage and I support it. However, I do not think it is right for a view based only on faith to be placed in law. If the Bill were merely about whether gay people should be allowed to get married or whether contemporary society accepts homosexuality, then it would be simple. Along with, I think, most people my age and younger, I am relaxed about other adults’ loves and consenting sexual relationships. However, I am not relaxed about muddled law, democratic consent or freedom of religion — whose protection is by no means certain — and I believe strongly that defining marriage is no business of the legislature.

That is why I voted against second reading and why I expect to vote against third reading too.

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Comments & Responses

22 Responses so far.

  1. James Rigby says:

    I full understand and agree with your point about getting the state out of marriage (although I’d go further than you and get them out of the entire process). I also have sympathy with your view that the legislation is a little muddled. But the option that you and I would like was not on the table. I do not understand politicians who vote to retain a bad situation, when they had the opportunity make it slightly less bad. We must deal with the world as we find it and consider the options tabled. To wait for the one solution that meets all our needs means voting against everything. Better to put the state-in-marriage issue aside, because it’s sadly not happening any time soon, and vote for a slightly flawed improvement to the current situation.

  2. John richards says:

    Thank you for this explanation of a decision that I believe you made correctly. David Cameron’s judgement has been called into serious question in this matter not because of his personal view but by his decision to force a vote on so decisive a matter for the party. I wonder how long he will survive as leader if this lack of sound judgement effects other leadership decisions that he makes in the months ahead.

  3. Richard Evans says:

    Excellent article, the conclusion you’ve reached is clearly logical. The state should neither accept or refuse any relationship which is accepted by any religion or body. It shouldn’t discriminate in terms of immigration, benefits or taxation dependent on a piece of paper given by a priest either.

    Equal rights & treatment for all.

  4. A Constituent says:

    It’s good to see my local MP advocating that Marriage should remain a private affair; it’s an institution of the heart as Paul Goodman has said in his article on Conservative Home, not one of law. Even if one argued that it’s a Christian institution, religion is a a bi product of what man believes about God, not what government believes.

    Your reference to Schedule 4 Part 3 I believe highlights the sensible argument that is being made by most of your colleagues who voted against the bill, rather than the old-style bigoted view as the media would have the majority believe. When considered in the context of particular laws, such as the Equalities Act 2010, and our current membership of the ECHR, the bill is simply not watertight. It has been rushed through by a desperate Conservative party leadership who are trying to bolster their compassionate image in the face of cuts and growing disillusion with the current state of their party. In doing so, they are hoping that the debate will not be able to properly fester, and the bill will not be properly read, so the intelligent MP’s such as yourself can not lead a practical and necessary revolt against this legislation.

    The fact that this bill is simply being used as a political stunt by the leadership is reflected in the widely held opinion that no one asked for this legislation. We already have Civil Partnerships, and those in Civil Partnerships (including a number of serving MP’s) are in no hurry to ‘upgrade’. It has simply created an undignified atmosphere that has lead to my first and by no means last post on your website Mr Baker. The last thing we needed in a time of economic weakness is the old ghosts of social division to be stirred up – and to what end?

    I fear that this bill has shown the overall bad state of the party, and that the emperor does in fact have no clothes. On one side of the debate, we have a Conservative leadership that has clearly demonstrated that it thinks its government is more important than both the party and the institution of marriage (I hasten to add that it is wrong on both accounts). On the other, we have a very small number of extremists still left in the party, who have fueled the media fire and bombarded the offices of Conservative MP’s with unnecessary and narrow minded views about why this legislation shouldn’t go forward, just when we thought we had dealt with the issue years ago. This, unfortunately, has drowned out your sensible and practical views Mr Baker, and I hope that the rest of your constituents will take it onto themselves to be properly educated (as I’m sure many of them are) before passing judgement on yourself and your colleagues who filed into the no lobby this evening.

    Let it be known that I am not against the principle of this bill, but I am against the way it has been brought in and handled. It has further solidified my view that whilst I would certainly vote for you Steve, I would not vote for this government.

    Kind regards,

    A Constituent

  5. David says:

    Agree completely. Thank you for standing up for your convictions against this ill-thought through legislation.

    The lack of public debate and the rushed legislation is a disgrace.

    Cameron is neither a Conservative or a leader.

  6. Ian Mulder says:

    I applaud your stand, as expressed in earlier correspondence. But it was a magnificent debate to watch, in the Mother of Parliaments! I had felt shame that a Conservative Prime Minister should thus ride roughshod over conservative principles in pushing the Bill so imperiously and without mandate. But I ended, after the seven hours of debate & divisions, feeling proud of democracy – even or especially in defeat.

    For it was good to see Members both for and against unite across party boundaries; expressing their own deeply-held views and somehow those of their constituents too (one felt).

    The continuing No votes will, one hopes, help produce a better law by the time we are finished.

  7. Ian says:

    While I understand your argument I feel there is a deeper issue here that you are missing. Muddled or not, the current legal position – whereby heterosexual couples can marry while homosexual couples cannot – reinforces a view that homosexual people are in some way inferior. To me, changing the law to allow gay people to marry is mainly about removing this implication. If your view is that “of course gay people are equal to straight people” then there is no question that they should be allowed to marry. However if your view is that gay people are in some way inferior, then I would expect you to have trouble with that position.
    By voting against equal marriage you are sending a signal, however you rationalise it, that you believe that gay people, and gay relationships, are not as “good” as straight people and their relationships. Whether the government should be involved in marriage, or whether the legislation is muddled, is irrelevant. We need our leaders to show that they believe that gay people are the same as straight people or we will see a continuation of the bigotry, hatred and fear of gay people that remains prevalent in our country today.

  8. Sally says:

    This is such a shame.
    It sounds like yuou are using this legal stuff about consummation and adultery to get round the fact that you simply don’t want to vote yes. Such a lame excuse.
    I’m saddened by the thought that you are representing me in government, if you haev such ludicrous views and stupid excuses.

  9. Sue Jameson says:

    Bursting your insular Westminster bubble, Cameron had no choice. This is another competence that has been handed to Brussels.


    Committee of Ministers – Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 March 2010 at the 1081st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies) http://bit.ly/VTKYJF


  10. Another constituent says:

    Thank you for your clarity and representation in what has been a difficult issue, and one which is likely to continue to be so.

  11. BTV says:

    I take it then, that as you believe the goverment has no business in marriage, you will seek to abolishe the married tax allowance. Also to contrast some of the extreme examples that SSM opponents have been using:

    As a believer in ‘Biblical’ marriage you must be in favour of polygamy.

    If government has no business in marriage then who, or what people chose to marry should have no legal barriers.

    • Alan says:

      I think Steve Baker has made his position very clear. Marriage is what marriage is – one man, one woman and it is not the place of the government to redefine it.

      Are you seriously suggesting that the government can only recognise marriage if they actually have involvement in defining what it is?

  12. Jenna Boyd says:

    These being your views surely abstaining would have been the correct way to vote?

    • Patrick says:

      That would have been the logical and principled thing to do.

      This whole debate and vote has been most instructive – we now know that for all their posturing the likes of our host and Douglas Carswell are only playing a libertarian card, rather than actually carrying one…

  13. Alan says:

    For me the issue is not the rights and wrongs of the bill. I am not opposed to gay marriage but I do strongly believe that it is NOT the place of Government to redefine on a whim an institution that has for millennia had such social, cultural and religious significance. I am wholly opposed to the bill for that reason alone.

    Had David Cameron told the truth about his intentions before the election and had gay marriage been included in the party’s manifesto, I would not have voted conservative.

    My anger comes from the fact that I now feel complicit in Mr Cameron’s deceit and that my vote for Steve Baker has been hijacked to push through legislation to which I am opposed. Not only do I now consider Mr Cameron a liar, I also believe him to be truly undemocratic and to have displayed real contempt for the people that put him into No 10.

    Whilst I have a great deal of respect for the decision taken by Steve Baker, I will struggle to support a party led by David Cameron at the next election.

    • BTV says:

      “an institution that has for millennia had such social, cultural and religious significance.”

      Yeeeah. Problem is this ‘social, cultural and religous significance’ has been in a constant state of change throughout these millennia. I’m assuming here, but I bet this ‘social, cultural and religous significance’ is the judeo-christian one.

      As with most Christians I doubt you even know what the bible considers acceptable in marriage.

      • Alan says:

        I am not a Christian. I don’t really care what the bible considers acceptable in marriage and I resent your implication that I am some kind of zealot. Marriage means different things to different people and different cultures. For many it retains an important sacred and religious significance that is wholly absent for others.

        Like it or not, in this country marriage is principally about the union of a man and a woman and it is not acceptable to ride roughshod over centuries of tradition and the deep-felt views of millions purely on the basis of political correctness or because you think marriage nowadays retains only some outdated pseudo-religious significance.

        If marriage is to be redefined then it requires a great deal of debate and very careful handling because there will be millions of people who are deeply offended, not because they are in any way homophobic, but because their beliefs have been treated with such contempt by our politicians.

    • Roeland says:

      so Alan, if I understand your argument any law proposed by a conservative that’s not included in the manifesto is an act of betrayal of the voters?

      I am not sure why you think that the subject of gay marriage is whim. It’s legal in 11 countries and activists have been campaigning for it for years. As for redefining things, that’s the way of the world. Things change.

      • Alan says:

        Correct – you don’t understand!

        I am referring to marriage specifically and my point is that marriage and its definition is not something in which politicians should be meddling. This is not about introducing new laws; this is about interfering with something about which millions feel very strongly. I say ‘whim’ because this is about political correctness and, let’s not kid ourselves, a crude attempt to curry votes from the gay population.

        Many might think that in 2013 marriage should be more inclusive (and maybe it should) but it requires a wider discussion that includes religious and non-religious groups. The fact that gay marriage is legal in 11 other countries is not in itself justification for change here, but maybe it is a signal that we should be having the debate.

        That being the case it should be discussed widely so that the views of everyone can be heard, even those who consider that change is necessary just to keep up with the times.

  14. James says:

    The provisions relating to adultery and consummation have essentially no practical impact, and could easily be amended in the committee stage. It is nonsensical to vote against the second reading of a bill over such minor quibbles.

    Aside from that, your argument is wildly contradictory – you move from claiming that marriage should be radically reformed to complaining that using state power to change it in any way is wrong. You have successfully convinced me that you are just another Christian homophobe who refuses to be honest about his prejudices.

  15. Roeland says:

    I understand that you want government completely out of marriage but considering the contract that marriage is, surely you must understand that’s nigh on impossible. Being married we rely on the law (through the government) to be able to enforce our legal rights.

    I find it disingenuous at best that you use this as an argument to vote for the perpetuation of what’s essentially state-sponsored discrimination.

  16. John Mann says:

    Thank you for that. It is heartening that there are MPs who really do believe in freedom, and who see that the state should get out of marriage altogether.

    Well done.