Last Minute Bid to Sink Marriage Bill Fails in British Commons

Jim Burroway

May 20th, 2013

Rebellious Tories were unsuccessful in their last minute attempt to insert a poison pill into the marriage equality bill which is undergoing its report stage in the British House of Commons. Marriage equality opponent MP Tim Loughton (Con), for the first time in his entire political career, decided that gays and straights should be treated under British law — but not through marriage equality itself by by making civil partnerships available to heterosexual couples. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government countered that doing so at this late stage would greatly complicate matters and impose a huge potential cost to the treasury (£4 billion, by the government’s back-of-the-envelope estimate) if all of those unmarried heterosexual couples, widows and widowers suddenly began demanding their pensions. The net effect, said the government, is that the bill would have been returned to its consultation phase and guarantee that it would not be returned to Parliament for another five years or so.

Loughton’s amendment posed a serious threat to the marriage bill as about 150 Conservative MP’s threatened to support it, while many Liberal-Democrat and Labour MPs had long been on record supporting heterosexual access to civil partnerships. Together, they could have very easily attached Loughton’s amendment to the bill and forced its multi-year delay. But Labour Party leaders came in to save the day by offering a change to a clause sponsored by Conservative MP Maria Miller which calls for a review to take place to study potential future legislation to open civil partnerships to heterosexual couples (or, alternatively, to possible abolish civil partnerships altogether). Under Miller’s clause, that review was to take place after five years, but Labour proposed an amendment to allow the review to begin immediately. That compromise allowed Labour and Lib-Dem MP’s to abandon Laughton’s amendment while keeping their commitment to equality for civil partnerships intact. Miller’s clause (known as New Clause 16) cleared the Commons in a 391-57 vote at about 10:15 p.m. BST (5:15 EDT), with the Labour amendment passing by acclamation minutes later. About fifteen minutes later, Loughton’s amendment was defeated in a 375-70 vote.

Earlier in the evening, three other amendments which were proposed by marriage equality opponents also went down in defeat with similar margins. One proposed clause would have allowed registrars to refuse to conduct a same-sex wedding on “conscientious objection” grounds. That clause was defeated 340-150. Another clause, which would have made beleif in marriage as between one man and one woman a “protected characteristic of religion” under the Equality Act of 2010, wend down in a 339-148 vote. (MP Chris Bryant (Labour), a former vicar, objected, saying that the clause was unnecessary because other religious beliefs (virgin birth, transubstantiation, etc.) are also not called out inthe Equality Act.) Another clause, which would have added more exemptions to a clause which prohibits penalties for chaplains and other clergy who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, was also defeated, 321-163.

There will be more votes tomorrow in the Commons, where the bill will also get its third and final readying before being sent to the House of Lords. According to The Guardian:

The gay marriage bill has survived its greatest threat (so far) in its passage through parliament… There will be further votes in the Commons tomorrow, when the bill will also get a third reading, but the government should win those easily. The next big threat will be in the Lords, where many peers are opposed to the legislation. But the Commons passed the bill at second reading with a majority of 225 and tonight Loughton’s amendment was defeated by a majority of 305. The size of these majorities makes it hard to see how the Lords can block the bill.


May 20th, 2013

All right! A question, though: as I understand it, their civil partnerships only exist as an excuse to keep gay people out of marriage itself. So why keep them around as a separate thing at all?


May 21st, 2013

Hyhybt, I had the same question. Having two options for same-gender couples and one option for opposite-gender couples still marks the former as “different.”


May 21st, 2013

“The net effect, said the government, is that the bill would have been returned to its consultation phase and guarantee that it would not be returned to Parliament for another five years or so.”

Why five years? I do not know much about the British legislative process, but why 5 years or more?

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