How the Houses stand


After a bruising in the Commons, following Edward Leigh's Urgent Question on gay marriage yesterday, the "no" lobby was nursing its contusions this morning; and contemplating the possibility that they could be debating the second reading of a Gay Marriage Bill as early as next Tuesday.

There's no business set down for Tuesday, so far, not even provisionally, and with the noes visibly off balance following David Cameron's declaration in support of same-sex marriages, even in Church, they suspect the government may seize the moment.

I'm not entirely convinced - my guess would be next Tuesday will find MPs debating Lords amendments to some bill or other. But the government might just decide to spring a December surprise. And the no lobby don't think they're ready. "We have most of the party grassroots behind us, but we're all over the place," one Conservative MP complained. "Where's our letter to the Telegraph? Where's our organisation in the Commons?" He thought the yes side of the argument was being organised, with fiendish efficiency, from George Osborne's office, and that his best hope of stopping the measure lay with their lordships.

I'm not so sure about that. It is true that the Lords put up a considerable battle against changes to the age of consent and other measures - and in January 2010, the (Labour) government was defeated on an amendment to the Equalities Bill that would have forced religious bodies to, for example, employ gay people.

That defeat was spearheaded by the Conservative, Lady O'Cathain, and was based on issues like freedom of association. But a more recent precedent is her motion, a year ago, to annul regulations to allow civil partnership ceremonies to be held in church - which had a rather frostier reception.

The regulations allowed religious premises to apply for a permit to perform civil partnerships, but only where the governing body of that religion had agreed. It was clear from the debate that the House did not accept this would put them on a slippery slope in human rights terms, and, in the end, the motion was not pushed to a vote.

Taken together with votes on the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act and the March 2010 vote on civil partnerships in religious buildings - an amendment to the Equalities Bill put down by a cross-party alliance involving Lord Ali, Lady Butler-Sloss and others, to omit the subsections from the 2004 Act that prevented civil registration in places of worship or religious premises, and was carried comfortably by a thinly-attended House - those results suggest that gay marriage should get through without too much trouble in the Lords.

Most House of Lords insiders expect a few socially conservative peers across parties to make a fuss, along with the Bishops, but they do not believe they will succeed in blocking gay marriage…

These days it's the Lords which is the more liberal and civil libertarian House, they say.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

Week ahead

A certain amount of fag-end legislating, next week, as MPs and peers finish off several bills.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I can't undestand why Conservative MPs get hot under the collar about gay marriage and for that matter votes for prisoners.
    So what? It's not a big deal!
    Are they over-reacting because they wish to conceal that they are closet gays with criminal inclinations?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The point that seems to be missing is that there isn't a legally protected human right to multiple marriage partners, nor is there a significant proportion of society clamouring for that right. The claim that someone should be treated differently because they are gay (not allowed to 'marry') is no different to the suggestion that you shouldn't be allowed to teach my children due to your faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How is it? Should a group of consenting adults not have the same legal privaledges as 2 consenting adults?
    As a religous man I believe that such things are wrong, but that does not mean they should be illegal, and that if one christian teaching is dropped others should not be rethought too.
    Either it is religious, or secular (and inclusive of all)
    What we have here is a classic fudge!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    laughingdevil (great name for someone espousing support for religion btw)

    Everyone has a right to freedom of speech but all you are doing by comparing gay marriage to polygamy/polygany, is showing a fine example of ignorance. This is the same attitude that over this and other issues is causing region to lose its relevance in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    As a Gay monogomous church going man, in a long term relationship with my civil partner, who do these people think they are who think they have the right to say that my partner and I cannot get married in the church of our faith. Do they think that all gay's are unfaithful and lacking in religious belif? Why do these people think they are better than us?


Comments 5 of 16


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