Monday, 20 May 2013

Equal Marriage - when is a Lib Dem not a Lib Dem?

I'm quite sure that in twenty years time, we'll look back on this as a really fractious period. Being in Government isn't easy, and being in a coalition is worse. Good, solid, LibDem members are faced on an almost weekly basis with things that question our morals and what it means to be a member of our party. 

For the most part, what happens is that people mull things over, agree, yet again, that we have to compromise and move on, and we continue to deliver leaflets, or phone supporters, or organise suppers to get our MP's and Councillors elected again next time. Those are things which I will continue to do for my MP, David Heath, who whilst making difficult decisions has come down on the right side of a lot of key issues for me. Do I adore the badger cull? No, of course not. Do I accept David's view on it? Yes, I do. Has David supported lifting the tax threshold? Yes. Has he continued to fight the side of my town despite being a Minister in Government? Yes he has. Similarly, when it comes to the question of whether I should be allowed to marry the person I love, David Heath has fought my corner and I will repay him with my hard work. 

That isn't the same for eleven Liberal Democrat MPs. 

Eleven people who are members of the same party as me, who carry the same card, who backed the same manifesto, voted against my interests. Now, it's too early to see what individual reasons are. I'm absolutely sure that some will have made political decisions to back the amendment on Registrars because they knew it would be defeated and the Equal Marriage Bill would still move forward. I don't support that stance, but I can at least comprehend why they might do it. What I can't comprehend is those MP's of ours who have taken a moral stance, in what Tim Farron has tonight called 'equal and tolerant'. 

Tolerance is a funny thing. 

I tolerate the fact that the Government has silenced religious leaders in the Church of England who would actively like to marry same sex couples. I don't like it, but I tolerate it. I tolerate the fact, that there are MP's who don't believe certain people should be married in Churches. I vehemently disagree, but I tolerate it. 

What I don't tolerate, is the idea that people paid to perform marriages by the public purse should be able to pick and choose who they want to marry. This amendment was put forward, not because any great number of registrars actually had an issue, but because it was a way for the right wing to argue against Equal Marriage without being called up on their homophobia. What I don't tolerate, is our Party President's view that gay people shouldn't be allowed to have the audacity to demand that a public servant do the job they're paid to do. 

The passage of the Equal Marriage Bill will amount to little more than a change of terms for registrars up and down the country. Just as contracts are changed when a Sainsbury's employee moves from stacking shelves to working a checkout, registrars will have more people to marry. That's it. They didn't become registrars to marry people that meet a certain moral code, because those people are called Vicars. In that same sense, they will, I don't doubt, continue to provide a happy and efficient public service even after the Bill has passed and the brimstone has stopped falling from the sky. 

The sad fact is that I can't and won't support Liberal Democrat MP's who don't believe that public services should be open to all - no ifs, not buts. I won't work or support any MP who believes that a public servant should be able to 'opt out' of doing their duty to me as a member of the public. 

I have every faith that this Bill will pass, and that we'll move forward. My concern is that those who fought against progress will be remembered as being on the wrong side of history, and those Liberal Democrat MPs who think that 'separate but equal' still stands, will remain for some time a stain on our proud party. 

For many Lib Dems, who believe in the ideals that our party stands for, this will be a kick in the teeth. But, for gay people, for their friends and their families - their supporters - this is a betrayal. 

Walking home in Frome the other evening, somebody around the same age as me rode past me on a BMX. He said to his friend 'That's that fucking faggot from school, I used to beat him up.' For me, this is a personal betrayal, because I don't know how we can purport to be the party that will help stop that kind of thing happening when some of our own MP's support one rule for one person, and something separate for the 'normal' people.