By Paul Geater
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
THE House of Commons will today vote on the controversial issue of gay marriage – and MPs across this region remain divided.
Four of Suffolk’s seven MPs share Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that gay marriage should be legalised – with safeguards for religious groups who do not want to have to allow such unions.
But three Tory MPs have told the EADT they will vote against Mr Cameron.
In north Essex there is a similar split and nationally the party has no clear consensus.
The proposals are likely to be approved because a substantial majority of both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs will back gay marriage.
In Suffolk Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo, and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock will be backing gay marriage.
Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, Waveney MP Peter Aldous and Suffolk Coastal’s Dr Therese Coffey are opposed to gay marriage.
Over the county border North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin supports gay marriage while Clacton MP Douglas Carswell and Witham MP Priti Patel are opposed.
Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester Sir Bob Russell said he would be voting in favour of gay marriage.
Mr Gummer emphasised it was a free vote: “The Prime Minister will be joining me in the lobby on this.
“I do not believe that the state should be able to discriminate between heterosexual and gay couples. There are safeguards for churches and other religious groups and this is not something the state should determine.”
He felt the issue was one which split along age profiles – with younger voters increasingly accepting gay marriage as a normal part of society.
Government ministers Mr Hancock and Dr Poulter are both supporting gay marriage in the lobbies.
Mr Hancock said: “I’ll be voting in favour because marriage is a wonderful thing, and should be available to everyone.”
And Dr Poulter has written to his constituents saying: “I do not believe that it is right to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and it is for this reason that I shall be voting in favour of the proposals for same-sex marriage.”
Mr Yeo told the Prime Minister in December: “Your policy on gay marriage is admirably clear, and I am glad to say it has my full support.”
Mr Ruffley was one of 60 Tory MPs who wrote to culture secretary Maria Miller in December warning that the Government was ignoring public wishes over the issue.
He was concerned that even if there were safeguards put into legislation for churches and other faith groups there could be legal challenges in the future.
He said: “I think the history of the last few years shows that courts, both in this country or in Europe, would seek to challenge faith groups who wish to exercise their conscience to not carry out gay marriages.”
Dr Coffey felt the issue boiled down to the definition of marriage – she felt the proposed change was an attack on family life.
“I know there are those who will call this homophobic but it is not about that. I shall be voting to preserve family life.”
Mr Aldous said he had had more letters on this subject than anything else since he was elected to parliament.
He supported the change which allowed gay couples to enter civil partnerships, but did not feel it was right for the state to try to redefine marriage itself.
Mr Jenkin said he would be supporting the change because he accepted the assurances that the prime minister had given about the right of religious groups to refuse to hold gay marriage ceremonies.
Ms Patel has said that the Government should be concentrating on other priorities rather than gay marriage and Mr Carswell has said it is arrogant to change laws that have existed for centuries.
Sir Bob, however, said he would be supporting gay marriage: “In my experience may of the gay couples I meet have a very loving relationship and could teach heterosexual couples who are at daggers drawn over their children a thing or two.
“I would hope that Christians could show compassion to such couples and understand why we are supporting this change in the law.”