5 Lessons for Labour from Equal Marriage

6th February, 2013 7:32 am

Last night, with significant support from Labour MPs, Parliament took the first steps to achieve marriage equality. Same sex relationships will be recognised in law on an equitable basis to others. Trans people will not have marriages destroyed as they transition gender. People will be able to marry regardless of who they love; not denied those rights because of who they love.

What lessons can we take from yesterday’s debate and the Campaign to date:

1) Labour can make a difference in opposition

As Mark has said, Labour’s votes made a difference. More broadly, Labour has pushed for this Bill and held the Government to account. The Government had no intention of allowing any form of religious marriage ceremony but following Labour’s lobbying and pushing by Yvette Cooper we progressed the argument for religion freedom.

2) Labour remains the party of equality

Yesterday Ed Balls highlighted the bravery of David Cameron to push for LGBT equality (even if he seemed to go missing in action on the day). Ed is right and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the tough slog LGBTory have had to pursue marriage equality in such a divided party – in the end 40% of Tory ministers & PPSs and 70% of backbenchers failed to support Cameron.

Yet, for all Cameron’s words, it’s votes that matter and here Labour delivered. 85% of Labour MPs voted for marriage equality; compared to just 42% of Tories. More Tory MPs voted against equality than for it. Even one in five Lib Dem MPs failed to support marriage equality (despite LGBT+ Lib Dems hard work).

3) Ed: you could have been bold

LGBT Labour would have preferred yesterday’s vote to have been whipped – we do not think equal rights should be an optional extra for Labour MPs. It should be core to our Party’s beliefs and our expectations on MPs.

4) A minority against equality remain

Yesterday 22 Labour MPs voted against LGBT equality (compared to 136 Tories mind!). For me, that is 22 too many. Most were the familiar handful of MPs who have voted against almost all legal measures for LGBT equality – they are a dying breed of Labour politician. Others of note include two MPs first elected in 2010 (Michael McCann and Mary Glindon); Robert Flello, currently a Junior Shadow Minister; and Iain McKenzie, who won the 2011 Inverclyde by-election following the death of gay MP and LGBT Labour Patron David Cairns.

I hope that they reach out and rebuild trust with the LGBT community and LGBT members of the Labour Party and that, more broadly, we will be able change their minds – if they seem out of step now; they will look plain foolish as same sex marriage becomes the norm.

5) Socialist Societies can make a difference

On Saturday 5th June 2010 I attended my first LGBT Labour AGM, just months after joining, with my ‘Marriage Equality’ motion in hand. In perhaps typical Labour style, after drafting a composite motion (with UNISON – thanks for your support too!) it passed. Once agreed, our campaign kicked into action. Not by more compositing, but by reaching out at Prides and CLPs to thousands of supporters. By pressuring MPs and others to commit support – many a Labour MP has been chased by an LGBT Labour for Equal Marriage banner. By lobbying for inclusion in NPF reports to Conference. By pressuring potential party leaders and NEC reps to support the policy. By frankly working hard.

We are proof that Socialist Societies are at their best when they are active, working with others, campaigning for change and engaging with voters.

The Campaign continues…

Whilst we have taken the first step, much work remains. Whilst Labour Peers are confident it can pass the House of Lords unscathed, there are a number of Peers who we will need to convince. LGBT Labour will be keeping up our campaign for equality but we need your support – find out more or join us.

Oh, and as if we needed another reason to go canvassing in Brent, we found it with Sarah Teather’s vote against marriage equality. She can expect many LGBT Labour activists on Brent’s pavements working hard to ensure Brent gets the MP it deserves: one committed to equality. I can’t wait…

Tom Burke is National Secretary of LGBT Labour

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • Ed Milliband’s not whipping this was the first thing he has done which I did not like.

    Generally speaking I think Ed Milliband has been doing an excellent job and is the best person for leader of the party. I voted for him in the leadership election.

    It is my belief that ending discrimination is not “a matter of conscience” and that the Labour party should have whipped this vote.

    • I think his problem was the fact that the Coalition allowed a free vote and to do otherwise would seem heavy handed. I think if he had there would have been 22 more MP’s “missing in action”.

    • John Ruddy

      If he did whip this vote, then the story would have been about Labour splits, not Tory ones – even with the small numbers of Labour MPs voting against.

    • robertcp

      I disagree Patrick. The vote was won comfortably, so there was no need for a whipped vote. I always support the liberal point of view on such issues but I accept that some people on the left are less liberal due to their religion etc.

  • I think Flello needs to be removed from his post. Its not appropriate to have a Justice spokesperson holding his view

    • robertcp

      I disagree Mike, it was a free vote.

      • However it will make his role untenable. If it was another role then it wouldn’t matter. I predict he will be re-shuffled in the next round.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    “Trans people will not have marriages destroyed as they transition gender”

    A biological impossibility, despite what the law might foolishly say. Of the 7 intersex conditions, 3 are biologically male, 4 female, and of the 7, only 2 are subject to debate with “grey areas”. Precisely none of the various treatments proposed actually change gender. It is impossible with current science to change gender.

    And if the law wishes to recognise differently, well the law is a manmade construct and not infallible. So let the law recognise equality in terms of partnership and not caring of the gender, but not be so stupid as to recognise something that is impossible.

    • Actually, Jaime, gender is a manmade construct. Sex is the term which applies to physical characteristics; gender is about social behaviour. It is, however you would like to police other people’s lives, therefore possible to change gender.

  • Rather intellectually bankrupt assertion about dissenting MPs (and, to be clear, I would have voted FOR the billl, so I’m not backing their views per se) – you’re asking Irish-blood Catholics, who are deontologists, idealists believing in absolute truth, to accept “progress” (that vague, dangerous idea) as the measure of their policies…to shift and change with the prevailing winds of culture. Aside from the insanity of that idea in general, you also insult their integrity – that, despite the fact many in their party have poor opinions of them, they voted for what they believed was right, not what was easy.
    Poor show, old chap.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    Goodness, what nonsense. But perhaps we have different perspectives. Mine is from the physical sciences, and immutable and literally universal laws and constants. Sex and gender are interchangeable words in the description of physical difference, and have been since Pedanius Dioscorides first defined them in Book 2 of his 5 volume De Materia Medica in AD 45. These thoughts have been constant in the evolution of not only western, but also Chinese medicine ever since.

    Maybe your perspective is from sociology or some other attempt to describe the world not as it is, but what you wish it to be?

    • Dave Postles

      She is, perhaps, suggesting that gender can be construed as an identity and as performance, for which, I suppose, the paradigmatic text is Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, with the key passages at pp. 16-17. Butler is not a sociologist, although she has read widely in that discipline. Since we are human beings, the social imaginary is important.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Since we are human beings, the social imaginary is important.

        Not really, it is merely contextual. In the context of binary judgements, hard science “beats” soft nonsense every day of the week, and I am glad of it. And in the detailed context of the judgement and ruling as to sex / gender – both being the same – the soft nonsense is particularly soft and “woolly”, even if popular among the “hard of thinking”.

        • CD13

          Jaime,

          I wouldn’t bring logic or science into this – you’ll confuse the social “scientists”.
          It does seem reminiscent of that scene from “The life of Brian” … “It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.”

    • No Jaime just evidence that you don’t understand the social sciences and view the world in very fixed ways – hence your liking for medicalisation and economics. That’s an observation rather than a criticism. Gender is social construct and so separate though related to sex.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        It would perhaps be helpful if the social sciences understood the world as it is. Otherwise, there is no common basis.

    • Eleanor Saunders

      It must be a shame to live life so hatefully.

  • robertcp

    I agree Owen.

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