By now it’s common knowledge that MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons vote on 5th February, but what does this really mean for gay marriage?
If the bill becomes law, same sex couples (in England and Wales) will now be able to officially identify their relationship as a marriage, rather than a civil union. The bill states that same sex marriages can be officiated in religious ceremonies, but only with the consent of the religious party involved.
The vote was won with a clear majority of 400 to 175. Though it was predicted that the vote would divide opinion, the Conservatives have caused much discussion about how equally their votes were split, and what that means for the party.
All three party leaders, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband openly supported the bill. Clegg said that “marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay,” while Miliband spoke for his party, saying “the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported this change to make sure marriage reflects the value we place on long-term, loving relationships whoever you love”.
Cameron publicly backed the bill, but the votes show a party divided: 127 votes in favour, 136 votes against, while 35 did not vote and five voted both ways thereby registering for abstention. The Prime Minister said: “I’m proud it is this government that has brought it forward.” However, there is a large number of his Conservative MPs who have openly spoken out about their differing views.
Questions have arisen about the strength of a party so divided in opinion, but Helen Grant, junior justice minister, defended the split: “As Tories we do differ at times. We have squabbles – we’re like any other family.”
Conservative MP David Burrowes claimed that as a divided party, the Conservatives were in touch with a nation he considers to be divided. He added: “We shouldn’t hide behind the fact that we’re going to be divided on this issue.”
The split in Conservative votes on the bill will no doubt put the party under further scrutiny in the coming weeks and months, particularly so when taking into account Michael Gove’s recent announcement of the government’s U-turn on scrapping GCSE’s in key subject areas in favour for the English Baccalaureate Certificates.
Many of those opposed to the passing of the ‘gay marriage bill’, such as Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, suggest that Cameron must make amendments to the bill for it to progress through Parliament.
The bill is expected to receive heavy opposition in the House of Lords.