Today on Lib Dem Voice Simon Hughes outlined his reasons for abstaining on the third reading of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill earlier this week.
He does what Simon does so well and put out an argument that seems to make sense, and it clearly does to him based on his vote on Tuesday. However, there are some holes in his argument.
Primarily it appears his main reason is the establishment of the Church of England. I'm sure like me many Liberal Democrats at fringe events have heard Simon say that with his Welsh roots he is proud to be associated with the disestablished Church in Wales. In his article on Lib Dem Voice he says:
"I believe that heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and non-gendered people should all be able to have the choice of an identical sort of civil partnership or of a civil marriage or union. This should be separate from Christian or other faith marriages. But the way of reconciling the two is for us first to separate completely in law the recognition of relationships by the state from the marriages conducted by churches, other faith groups – and humanists, but then also to allow those faith communities which wish to recognise gay and heterosexual marriages equally in their ceremonies the ability to do so, and with identical consequences in the law of the land."
To me the only way to achieve that is disestablishment of the state
The other thing I notice in that statement is that Simon is quite prepared for LGBT people to have either a civil partnership or union that is separate from Christian and other faith marriages!
Hang on there, what will happen to civil marriages (even those between heterosexual couples)? What will happen to the faith groups that want to carry out same-sex marriages? Simon appears in the paragraph quoted above to separate church and state and then to separate marriage and some other form of partnership recognition altogether! Surely that is not equal marriage? That is like playing with words in the same way that Ian Paisley junior did on last night's Question Time.
Simon does urge us to read his three speeches (here, here and here) over the second and third readings carefully.
In the first on 5 February he was calling on the minister to proceed carefully, with maximum consensus saying "I will be voting against the timetable motion for just that reason, but I shall support the Bill.", He carries on to say:
"The Bill ought to be amended to make it clear that the principal purpose is to provide for equal civil marriage for gay and straight couples and for others to opt in if the Churches and other denominations so wish, but that is not how the Bill is drafted. The Bill ought to make it clearer that we are not seeking to redefine traditional marriage as previously understood in custom and law. That would be helpful to Church communities and others."
Yet as I have pointed out above not once in his article today does he talk about giving LGBT people access to marriage, merely some other ceremony. Maybe Simon should amend his article on Lib Dem Voice to make it clear if the Bill he was prepared to support in February principally about marriage for all is something he is willing to support. His comments today are backing the traditional and not the radical move forward that Liberals have been renowned for for generations.
On the second occasion on Monday he said:
"not all gay people take a strict view that everything in this set of proposals is absolutely perfect and that there are no questions; not all straight people think that the Bill is a terrible abomination; not all Christians share the view of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England; and not all people who do not have faith might not have problems with the Bill. I hope that we have got across the message that the debate is much more complicated."
I happen to agree with that, like him I had been a member of a church for about 20 years before I became a member of the party. I'm one of those who doesn't share the view of the hierarchy of a church, in my case the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in which I was brought up. I don't think the proposals before the House were perfect, as anyone who heard me move the Transgender amendment at Scottish conference can guess some of the main reasons why.
But he goes on rather unclearly in my view of what he expects teachers to be allowed to do, should the bill come in. The reason may be that he seems to want Churches to me able to say that homosexuality is wrong in the same sentence. So trying to decipher what he means by "getting the balance right" lacks clarity.
On the third occasion he opens:
"I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I agree with a huge number of his comments. He and I have voted similarly pretty well throughout the passage of the Bill."
Later he was about to differ on the most important vote, that on the Bill itself, as amended over the two days. But then he goes on:
"Let me put my position on the record. I believe, have believed and was brought up to believe that marriage is ordained by God. I believe that marriage is traditionally ordained by God to be between one man and one woman. I believe that marriage was set up by God for the creation of children. I believe that it was to link the biological needs of children with their biological parents. I believe that it was for biological complementarity. I believe that it was for gender complementarity, and that it was a gift of God in creation. That is why I have taken a traditional Christian and other-faith view on how marriage has traditionally been—for one man and one woman—which was the case long before we legislated for such things in this country and made them the law of the land."
So I'm rather at pains to see how being liberal, a word he used six times in his article, after having said in his second speech that not all Christians adhere to the view of the hierarchies of the Churches of England and Rome. That he can have such a rigid view of what Christian's or those of faith believe. There are some who want to see same-sex marriage, there are even some that want to be able to allow their faith group the be allowed to have the option to carry out same-sex marriages and actually to implement this.
Now Simon is quite entitled to his view. But to propagate it as a liberal view, that is where I take issue. His view to quote himself is for 'traditional marriage', hardly liberal when others are looking to expand marriage to others. As for waiting to disestablish the church so that all church and state is separate that is a wrecking amendment as we are still waiting for that 150 years after Gladstone started the process of disestablishment. Waiting probably means instead of moving towards equal marriage nothing would ever happen.
However, I'm not going to not campaign for any of the abstainers or voters against. What I do want though is to have time talking with them all.