Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson: why I voted for same-sex marriage
On Tuesday the House of Commons voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.
Over the days and weeks running up to this vote, I received over 300 letters and emails from Pendle residents, both for and against, and thought I would therefore set out clearly why I voted in favour of the Bill.
I share the Government’s support for same sex-civil marriage and do so as a Conservative, and as a Christian. Society is made stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. Marriage is a great religious institution. However, it is also a civil one and the state playing a role in defining marriage is not a new concept.
A minimum age requirement was introduced in 1753 and since the Act for Marriages in England 1836 civil marriage has been available, permitted by the state with no church involvement. Therefore marriage for over 170 years has also been a civil institution, nothing to do with religion. I therefore see no reason against the state offering the same to gay or straight couples.
That is what this Bill is about, civil marriage, as defined and approved by the state. There is no question of churches or any other religious institution being forced to host ceremonies for same-sex marriage or indeed civil partnerships.
If this was proposed, I would oppose it strongly. The government have been explicit that this isn’t going to change. I support that and the rights of individual faiths to set their own rules on who they will or won’t marry.
Another issue repeatedly raised by those with concerns was that the European Court of Human Rights will force religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage.
Whilst no fan of the European Court of Human Rights, religious freedom is one of the very things it was established to protect and no other European country has been forced to follow this course of action.
It is worth remembering that same-sex marriage is already possible in European countries like Catholic Spain, as well as the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Denmark. France has also voted this week in favour.
I respect the views of many Christians across Pendle who are opposed to same-sex marriage.
However, many Christians who lean on the Bible to justify their opposition to homosexuality also think it is compassionate to let divorcees re-marry.
Indeed when Prince Charles takes the throne we are set to have a re-married divorcee as head of the Church of England. This, despite the fact that Jesus speaks against re-marriage in a way that he does not speak against same-sex relationships.
If my faith teaches me one thing more than anything, it is compassion and tolerance.
I know many Christians will disagree and will sincerely feel I should have voted against this Bill, but I hope they will also understand how I have reconciled my support with my faith.
The Bill will now head to Committee, where representations will be heard from the churches and other groups.
While I support the principle of this Bill, I will be watching to ensure that the views of these groups are listened to and additional safeguards are added if deemed necessary.