Adam Lovejoy writes from London: Smiling faces all around at the BBC and other places where strong feelings have always been expressed about gay rights: on Tuesday the House of Commons overwhelmingly approved the bill that legalises gay marriages in Britain. This is just the first step, though, in giving the legal right to gays to formally tie the knot, including in a church ceremony. The bill that has already been dubbed as the David Cameron Gay Marriage Bill would still have to go through committee stages and come up before the House of Lords, that outdated unelected chamber that has proven to be so out of touch with modern life that it nearly blocked the effort by Tony Blair in the last century to lower the age of sexual consent amongst boys from 18 to 16, making it the same as for girls. At the time the New Labour leader was forced to invoke the Parliamentary Act which had been last used to push through a bill opposed by the Lords in the 18th century. Incidentally, Mr Blair himself refuses to accept that he was a staunch gay rights supporter while in office, which he points out in his best-selling memoirs A Journey with conviction. (You can read a parody of that fine book on this website.)
The one thing that has slightly spoiled the celebratory mood for Mr Cameron, who unlike Blair has no qualms about being a very vocal supporter of gay rights, was the fact that more than half of the Conservative parliamentary party in the Commons did not support him, with 135 Tory MPs voting against and 40 abstaining. And even the fact that it was a free vote does not remove the possibility that by the end of this fixed parliamentary term, a novelty in itself in British politics, Mr Cameron may end up running a Tory faction that would consist of only the members of his front bench team, give or take a couple of backbenchers who feel strongly about certain things. Although it has to be said that Mr Cameron can take comfort in the fact that some outstanding right-wing politicians, including a man called IDS, the Works and Pensions Secretary, who is doing a grand job of dismantling his own department, voted for gay marriage.
The big question, of course, that is being asked all over the place is why did Mr Cameron actually bother to make gay marriage such a cornerstone issue of his fixed term premiership, considering that it was not even mentioned in his election manifesto, unlike, say, the promise of not raising university tuition fees or meddling with the NHS? Furthermore, the mainstream press in Britain which is hugely sympathetic with the gay agenda – too sympathetic some might say – was banging on endlessly in the run-up to the vote in the Commons that the majority of people in Britain did not really care all that much about gay marriage and were more preoccupied by things like the economy, immigration, crime and Europe. Mind you, this effort to portray the indifference of the nation to gay marriage slightly backfired, as the media itself was creating way too much fuss around an issue that supposedly did not interest anyone in the slightest. Not to mention that it sort of contradicted the numerous opinion polls conducted by the likes of YouGov that supposedly showed an overwhelming support for gay marriage among the British people.
Some cynics, including several contributors on this website, voiced a suspicion that Mr Cameron was demonstrating his keen interest in gay rights for the sole purpose of shielding himself from criticism for the way he handles, of rather mishandles, the economy. (Since Blair and his New Labour comrades were in power political correctness has been elevated to official policy status in Britain by governments that saw nothing wrong in creating a smokescreen for their unfortunate domestic policies.) But people with an optimistic outlook on life discard such views and insist that Mr Cameron and his team are passionate about marriage to such an extent that they want more people to be involved in it. Which basically sums up the whole thing pretty nicely, I would have thought.
Let’s now hope and pray that the Lords do the right thing.