We’re cautiously optimistic that the House of Commons will today give a Second Reading to the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Bill, writes Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall.
A year of angst. A month of headlines. A weekend of hyperbole. At Stonewall, all that we await – in a now-cherished tradition – is the customary appearance of the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, Mr Robert Pigott on the Today programme or The World at One, advising sagely that the proposal at hand is likely to be defeated. (Thank goodness for Mr Pigott that his BBC stipend over the years has not been performance-related.)
We’re cautiously optimistic that the House of Commons will today give a Second Reading to the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Bill. I never engage in predictions – particularly on a free vote where some MPs may genuinely change their mind during a debate. However, we’d be very pleased this evening at a majority of anything more than 70, similar to the level of support for much government business.
I arrived at Stonewall 10 years ago this spring. The first parliamentary campaign I engaged in was for repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act. (Less than three years earlier, a similar campaign had failed.) Insistent on building cross-party alliances for the first time, we were successful in 2003. But that past is certainly another country.
It would have been unthinkable then for a measure of gay equality to be supported not just by many Conservatives but by a campaign – in today’s case, www.freedomtomarry.org.uk – largely founded by Conservative activists themselves. It would have been unthinkable then for most of the shadow cabinet to have come to the support of gay people. And it would have been equally unthinkable then for many senior figures in Conservative Future – the party’s ‘next generation’ leaders – to have come out in support of equality too.
Those younger people care enough about their party to want it to remain relevant into the middle of this century and beyond. Just as Lord Kilmuir once suggested that his party’s secret weapon was loyalty, they believe it to be common sense. They know there’s no sense in aspiring to connect with anyone under 40 if you twitch every time that homosexuality is mentioned.
Today a Conservative culture secretary will introduce a Marriage Bill for gay couples. Five years ago, Labour’s culture secretary voted against equal treatment for lesbian parents. It is truly, as someone or other once said, a funny old world.