Category Archives: Westminster

Jim Wells’ comments in last night’s hustings

Firstly all of those at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland want to say we are glad to have read the news in the Belfast Telegraph the other day that Mrs Grace Wells is recovering from the rare condition that affected her a short while ago. We wish her all the best in the future and understand the strain this may have put Jim Wells under.

However, if he was really under a lot of stress looking after his wife it should surely have been grounds for him not to put himself under further stress on top of being an MLA and Health Minister to seek election to Westminster. We are putting this up front as Jim Wells in a statement issued last night (see below) mentioned personal stress in recent weeks.

It is this series of comments from last night’s hustings in South Down that has brought this to a head:

Jim Wells

The comments can be viewed in video clips online.

Must horrifying of all with a raucous crowd to the last part about abuse, he immediately sets out to repeat his comments as clarification that he had said them and wanted them to be heard

The last of the sequence is that one that caused the uproar but comments have been made by members of the DUP that they have been taken out of context to the early comments about haranguing Christians and being insatiable lead up to the one about abuse of children by those in homosexual relationships.

There are over 1,200 children currently in care in Northern Ireland as the result of being victims of abuse. Is Mr Wells therefore saying that over 600 of these are from the result of having two carers of the same sex? Note we did not say parents as currently he is not allowing same-sex couples to adopt here despite a court ruling that the law should be changed to allow this. The facts of course are that very few of those children are there as a result of same-sex parents from come from homes with a father and mother involved in their upbringing.

In context of course Mr Wells had previously said that all who took part in Pride were repugnant, this was long before his wife’s current illness.

Mr Wells comments about abuse also seem to flow his comments about the victim of a rape who becomes pregnant in 2014 he said:

“That is a tragic and difficult situation but should the ultimate victim of that terrible act [rape] – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

There seems to be no realisation that the ultimate victim of any unwanted sexual encounter is the woman who has suffered. It is her body that has been violated, her emotions that have become distraught, her rights that have been abused. It leads to the question does the Health Minister really understand abuse in any situation.

Mr Wells also during the break between the first debate and vote on equal marriage in Stormont was in front of one of members, whom he had meet before, in the restaurant. When the member said hello and was about to ask how his wife and family were, was shunned by Mr Wells with the comment “Oh, you’re one of them!” before he turned heel and ended the civil on the part of our member’s conversation.

Here is Mr Wells’ response after the hustings debate last night:

“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.

“I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.

“Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.

“The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.”

If we give Mr Wells the benefit of the doubt over the first sentence we would like to ask why has he made the past few weeks and next couple even more difficult for himself by standing for election in another legislature at this difficult personal time. Clearly this thought wasn’t to the forefront of his mind when he signed the papers allowing himself to be nominated as the DUP candidate for South Down.

But on the matter of an issue such as abuse which falls under his Health and Social Care remit he should surely be aware of the sensitive nature of his comments and the facts about the situation here in Northern Ireland. While he has the right to say he is opposed to same-sex marriage he does not have the right to make up statistics, facts and vilify every lesbian, gay or bisexual person in Northern Ireland in doing so.

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Ian Paisley and his legacy

There is no doubting that Ian Paisley was one of the biggest characters that Northern Ireland politics through the troubles and in the years of peace since the end has ever seen. He founded his own party which is now the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly and also founded his own Church the Free Presbyterian Church in Ulster which maybe not surprisingly is disproportionately strongly represented within the DUP.

We do have him to thank for the return of devolution to Northern Ireland in 2007 and the longest continuous period of devolved power here since the abolition of the Northern Ireland Parliament and return to direct rule in 1972.

Today his wife Eileen has announced that he has passed on and therefore our thoughts are with her their two sons, three daughters and grandchildren for their personal loss.

However, we know that he took decades to catch up with many in Northern Ireland to realise that the only way to end conflict in our wee country was to sit down with Sinn Féin and accept that the will of the people some 6 or 7 years earlier to accept the Belfast Agreement was the only way for Northern Ireland to progress. Sadly for the LGBT community there is some progress that he never seemed to make and for us the legacy within his party is that they are still fighting to “Save Ulster from Sodomy” which is another organisation that he set up.

Of course on 25th October 1982 he has his turn in Westminster to speak against decriminalising homosexuality here in Northern Ireland. Part of his speech was:

“I regret the fact that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State were not prepared to listen to the strong representations made to them by many deputations. Each person in Northern Ireland has a right to his own conviction and some people there believe that homosexuality is not only a defiance of human law but a defiance of divine law. [Hon. Members: “Oh”!] I make no apology. I shall maintain in the House, no matter what point of view shouts, the right to say what I think needs to be said.

“The things that have been brought into the order that need not have been are matters that the Secretary of State, when he heard these strong representations, could have given in to. Instead of that, he was prepared to go on and present this matter as it has been presented.

“The House should know the strong feelings in Northern Ireland, and that those feelings do not come from one particular party or one particular religion, but from across the whole strata of Northern Ireland society. The one thing that binds society together is the family unit. Those who say that the family unit is ignorance, are welcome to that sort of belief. I believe that the family unit is the basic cement of society. This order, legalising homosexuality, attacks the very cement of society. It weakens not only the moral but the social fibre of society. Those of us who believe in the sanctity of the home and in the strength and moral power of the home must voice their opposition to the order.”

However, in the same speech some 22 years before the introduction of Civil Partnerships in the UK and over 30 years before the introduction of same-sex marriages it may be that Ian Paisley was one of the first to raise the possibility of these happening. Of course he was anti when he raised the issue but in the same speech he did say:

“If the nations of Europe go further and say that points must be given for homes for those who enter into a homosexual relationship on marriage, what will the House’s attitude be to that?”

Paisley may well therefore have been one of the first MPs to allude to equal marriage in the House of Commons. But of course currently it is not the nations of Europe that have gone further and called for same-sex or equal marriage but those of the Union a word that appears within the name of the party he formed.

When Civil partnerships were up for discussion he said it wouldn’t prove significant in Northern Ireland:

“The census of 2001 found only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. The Government say that only 5 per cent. of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships. Well, 5 per cent. of 288 is 14, so 14 couples in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity provided by the Bill, even though a majority of people who have a view on the matter across the political and religious divide oppose it. Their voices were not heard or taken into account. The basis of family law in Northern Ireland is to be changed for the sake of 14 homosexual couples.”

Well to the end of 2012 there were 727 Civil Partnerships carried out here in Northern Ireland, so clearly this was something that mattered to far more than the 14 couples Dr Paisley thought it was a concern for or the 288 couples who in 2001 were bold enough on the census to list themselves as in a relationship. But of course these people hadn’t just appeared since 2001 the situation in Northern Ireland since then has merely made them more likely to be open and honest about who they are. Most of those who were adults and cohabiting in 2001 would have been children or teenagers at the height of the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign. Many of them will have internalised their identity or fled Northern Ireland to be able to live openly as who they are. With the change in Northern Irish society being more able to accept otherness they have opened up or returned.

The extended coverage on Northern Ireland television today is talking about his faith, his decision to come in from the cold and enter the executive but it is skirting around the elephant in the room. Sadly it is an elephant that still stamps through the DUP. While they are a party that believes now that Roman Catholics can be trusted in positions of power LGBT people cannot be trusted to not ruin families, society and Northern Ireland if they are allowed equality.

He turned around on working with Sinn Féin and though his language may have softened down the years, his presence protesting ever LGBT step out from behind closed doors no longer evident, he never really stepped

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Those that didn’t want to redefine marriage try to redefine marrriage…badly

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Remember how just the other week opponents of equal marriage were saying you can’t redefine marriage.

Well take a look at some of the amendments that they have been lodging in the House of Lords.

Clause 1

LORD HYLTON

LORD CORMACK

Page 1, line 5, leave out “Marriage” and insert “Union”

Looks like a redefinition to me, of course this only applies to those of same-sex couples as can be seen by a withdrawn amendment on the same line:

LORD MACKAY OF CLASHFERN

Page 1, line 5, at end insert “and shall be referred to as “marriage (same sex
couples)””

Withdrawn

Yup.

But apparently marriage as we know it now is no longer good enough for those that are married. It needs redefined and renamed:

After Clause 1

LORD DEAR

Insert the following new Clause—

“Protecting belief in traditional marriage

Any person, in exercising functions under or in consequence of this Act,
shall have regard to the following—

(a)   that prior to the coming into force of this Act, marriage was the
union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all
others (“traditional marriage”);

(b)   that belief in traditional marriage is a belief worthy of respect in a
democratic society;

(c)   that no person should suffer any detriment because of their belief in
traditional marriage.”

Insert the following new Clause—

“Protecting belief in traditional marriage: public authorities

(1)   A public authority, or any person exercising a public function, shall have
regard to the following—

(a)   that prior to the coming into force of this Act, marriage was the
union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all
others (“traditional marriage”);

(b)   that belief in traditional marriage is a belief worthy of respect in a
democratic society;

(c)   that no person should suffer any detriment because of their belief in
traditional marriage.

(2)   In this section, a public authority is a person who is specified in Schedule
19 to the Equality Act 2010, and a public function is a function that is a
function of a public nature for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

So I’m wonder will Lord Dear actually raise his hands and make the inverted comma’s sign when he talks about “traditional marriage” when he goes about moving this amendment? But his not the only one at it, there is a former Archbishop of Canterbury up to it too along with him:

LORD CAREY OF CLIFTON

LORD DEAR

Insert the following new Clause—

“Right to choose basis of marriage

(1)   Nothing in this Act takes away the right of a man and woman to enter a
traditional marriage.

(2)   A “traditional marriage” is one where the basis of the marriage is the
voluntary union of one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all
others.

(3)   A traditional marriage may be solemnized in accordance with—

(a)   Part 2 of the Marriage Act 1949, or

(b)   any other statutory provision authorising the marriage, provided
the ceremony contains a declaration by the parties in the following
form, or words to that effect— “I [name] take you [name] as my
husband [or wife], and forsaking all others, promise to remain
faithful to you as long as we both shall live.”

(4)   The Registrar General shall maintain a public register of those whose
marriages have been solemnized in accordance with subsection (3) and
who notify the Registrar General of their wish to be included in it.”

Now surely allowing same-sex marriage doesn’t take away from the words that can be used. Indeed there are currently many different forms of word used by opposite-sex couples to solemnized. But look at this from the other hand is Lord Carey really saying that same-sex couples are not allowed to commit to one another, forsaking all others or promise to remain faithful to each other as long as they both shall live? Isn’t that rather stereotyping all same-sex couples as unable to commit, open relationship hunting polygamists?

As we’ve said earlier, one of the Northern Irish Peers is also up to this trick:

LORD EDMISTON

LORD MAWHINNEY

Page 11, line 5, at end insert—

“( )   It shall be lawful to refer to marriage between two people of the opposite
sex as “traditional marriage” and it shall be lawful to refer to marriage
between two people of the same sex as “same sex marriage”.”

Why, oh why, if you didn’t want to redefine marriage must it now be called “traditional marriage” as if it something other than simply marriage?

But there is more:

Before Clause 12

LORD ARMSTRONG OF ILMINSTER

Insert the following new Clause—

“Matrimonial marriages

(1)   Lawful marriage between a man and a woman is matrimony.

(2)   Lawful marriages between a man and a woman are matrimonial marriages.

(3)   All legislation regulating or relating to marriage having effect before the
passage of this Act continues in effect in relation to matrimonial marriages
save as varied or modified by any provision of this Act.

(4)   The Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor may by order vary, modify or
repeal legislation regulating or relating to matrimonial marriages if it
appears that such variation, modification or repeal is required as a
consequence of the passage of this Act.”

Lord Armstrong clearly needs a dictionary, martrimony is defined as the act of being married. Therefore matrimonial marriage is clearly the act of being married marriage. I mean what on earth is this one about?

Then the Bishop of Leicester comes up with this gem:

After Clause 11

THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER

Insert the following new Clause—

“Equality Act 2010

In the Equality Act 2010, after section 212, insert—

“212A           Expression of opinion or belief as to marriage

For the purposes of this Act, the expression by a person of the
opinion or belief that marriage is the union of one man with one
woman does not of itself amount to discrimination against or
harassment of another.””

While not in itself being discriminatory or harassment, if it is to disallow someone a service or access as a spouse or as spouses then surely it is. The law of the land says they are married. But as Lord Carey says he wants “traditional marriage” to include the words remain faithful to each other as long as they both shall live, why doesn’t the Bishop of Leicester also want to protect the belief that remarried divorced people are also not married?

Clearly those who only weeks ago didn’t want a redefinition of marriage are now trying their damnedest to do just that. Most of the above are merely ways of trying to say “Well you want equality, we don’t, so we are moving the goalposts.” How petty can these “noble” Lords be.

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Lord Mawhinney lodges “traditional marriage” amendment

A “traditional fool” or a “traditional bigot”?

Further to our report on how the Northern Irish peers voted during the second reading of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Bill last week, today there is news that Lord Mawhinney, one of their number, has proposed an amendment to be put before committee.

Page 11, line 5, at end insert—

“( )   It shall be lawful to refer to marriage between two people of the opposite
sex as “traditional marriage” and it shall be lawful to refer to marriage
between two people of the same sex as “same sex marriage”.”

Now if such an amendment were to pass, surely in hate crimes legislation we should also insert a new clause:

It shall be lawful to refer to people of non-Caucasian colouring by whatever term you deem fit and call it “traditional racism”

Or in the human trafficking legislation that will soon come before Parliament:

It shall be lawful to keep other humans of non-British origin as chattel and refer to it as “traditional slavery”

Or add another amendment to Marriage legislation which says:

It shall be lawful upon marriage should the husband choose to do so to take possession of all his wife’s possessions and refer to it as “traditional marriage”.

Any one of these examples and no doubt there are numerous others show just how transient tradition is when things move on. To actually legislate for something being called tradition is to say all things are equal but some traditional things are more equal than others.

I’m not sure if this amendment with Lord Mawhinney’s name to it makes him a “traditional fool” or a “traditional bigot”? Either way the protection of such wording is both foolish and somewhat allowing bigotry to carry on after, as seems obvious from the last vote, the legislation is passed.

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Survey shows support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey published today shows support across most sectors of Northern Ireland for marriages between same-sex couples to be recognised as valid. It found that overall 57% of people were in favour, 32% against and only 11% having no opinion.

But when you drilled down through the numbers the only age bracket were largest selection were opposed to same-sex marriage was the over 65s as shown in the graph below. Indeed support of those under 55 over more than two people are in favour for every one against (indeed it is closer to three to one of those with an opinion).

Life and Times survey

While every age group of working age has a majority in favour it is only those over 65 that have a majority against this sort of thing. Even there it is less than two to one.

When it comes to religious affiliation those who identify as Catholic are 65% in favour with 23% against, and As Protestant it is 44% for and 45% against.  Those with no religion are split 75% to 22%.

Now seeing as both the Roman Catholic Church and the main Protestant denomination are both as adamantly opposed as each other why are these figures so different.

Unionist politicians are claiming that there is a clear majority against this sort of thing in Northern, this survey shows that is quite clearly not the case. Indeed within the heartland of their own vote their slim claim is within the margin of error.

Therefore would it be too forward to suggest that the rhetoric of unionist politicians instead of reflecting public opinion is actually helping to shape it on the protestant side? This may well be the case. Even with all that rhetoric there are almost as many of those who identify as Protestant supporting same-sex marriage as are opposed. They are not reflecting the views of the denomination that they belong to, nor the politicians that claim to represent them. 

So why with only a sprinkling of notable exceptions do the politicians who identify as Protestant not split almost 50/50 when it comes to vote on same-sex marriage? In Westminster only Naomi Long in the Commons voted in favour and the in the Lords it was 9 against and 6 for. While in the Assembly only eight out of a total of 62 self-identifying Protestants have ever voted for marriage equality. These figures are far from a true reflection according to the NILT survey.

However, next time you hear any Northern Irish politician say that the overwhelming majority of people are against equal marriage, while that may be true of their mail bag or email inbox it would appear not to be a true reflection. It is time for politicians to get beyond the cries of upset that drown out the silent majority in favour of Northern Ireland moving with the rest of the UK on this issue.

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How did the Northern Irish Lords vote last night?

Hansard gives you a full run down of the voting of the Peers on the Amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2nd reading, which would have killed the progress in the upper chamber in an attempt to kill it. It makes interesting when you look at the full range of ‘Northern Irish’ Lords and Ladies.

9 were content with the amendment, 6 not content and 11 were either absent or did not register a vote.

Those content include many of the usual suspects the DUPs Lords Wallace Browne and Maurice Morrow and Lord Robert Eames the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh. Some former UUP MPs and MLAs Lord Kilclooney (John Taylor), Lord Ken Maginnis and Lord Reg Empey were also in the content lobby. There were joined by Belfast born former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Brian Mawhinney, Lord Robert Carswell the former Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland and former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan.

Of these Lord Browne may a speech on the second day

Those not content were:

  • former First Minister Lord David Trimble (now sitting as a Conservative peer)
  • the Lib Dem’s spokesman on Northern Ireland in the Lords and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster Lord Trevor Smith of Clifton
  • Baroness May Blood
  • Viscount Brookborough, grandson of the a former NI Prime Minister and one of the 92 hereditary peers.
  • Baroness Onora O’Neill, President of the British Academy and Granddaughter of UUP MP Hugh O’Neill who was the uncle of former NI Prime Minister Terrance O’Neill.
  • Lord Glentoran, to many better know as 1964 Olympic 2 man bobsled champion Robin Dixon.

Those who were absent or did not register a vote included Lord Bannside and his wife Baroness Paisley and Lord Molyneaux, although the three of these political stalwarts hardly attend these days due to age and health. Lord Laird who recently had the whip removed from him for cash for lobbying work was also absent, as was Lord Dennis Rogan, considered to be the UUP leader in the Lords. Other former Lords Chief Justice for Northern Ireland Lord Brian Hutton and Lord Brian Kerr of Tonaghmore were also missing from the vote roll.

Also absent were former Trimble adviser Lord Paul Bew who is a Professor at Queens who  actually rose and spoke in the chamber later for other business, businessmen Lord Ballyedmond (Edward Haughey) and Lord Diljit Rana.

Finally Lord Alderdice was one who actually spoke in the debate but didn’t in the end vote either way. He did say that at present he was unpersuaded, but was persuadable over the issue of equal marriage. I hope he will listen to some of the comments made to him by members of LGBT+ Lib Dems NI and the local party.

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Westminster to debate equal marriage

Today the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill returns to the House of Commons for its report stage today and tomorrow with the third reading tomorrow.

While of course this Bill will only have direct effect on England and Wales, it combined with the Bill to allow marriage equality in Scotland does mean that just as we were with the decriminalisation of homosexual acts Northern Ireland will once again face lagging behind the rest of the UK. The sad thing of course is that on both of the occasions that marriage equality has been discussed in the chamber at Stormont it is the parties that most want to protect the Britishness of Northern Ireland the DUP and UUP who have been the ones who voted overwhelmingly to prevent it.

I’m sure that over the next two days some of the DUP MPs will stand up either as interventions or to speak in the debate itself urging MPs not to allow this change in England and Wales. They will argue that the Bill will have an adverse effect on Northern Ireland, something that we agree it will but not for the same reasons.

Just as before Jeff Dudgeon won his European Court case to have the criminalisation of homosexual acts lifted in Northern Ireland many gay young men joined the exodus out of Northern Ireland, so they will do soon to get married. The failure of the DUP to even contemplate recognising same-sex marriages carried out elsewhere in the UK as such but  only call them civil partnerships, shows that they think that same sex relationships are not equivalent no matter what the jurisdiction under which they are solemnised says they are.

However, also sadly lacking is any comment on the lack of parity in Northern Ireland on this issue from the high-profile LGBT campaigners Peter Tatchell and Stonewall. The first today has been very vocal in supporting Civil Partnerships for couple of opposite sexes, but I have yet to hear him address comments to Northern Ireland. As those of us in Northern Ireland are aware Stonewall’s jurisdiction seems to not cover the T and barely the B in LGBT issues, but also their Twitter name StonewallUK is a misnomer as they fail to reach across the Irish Sea in giving support, but will happily take it.

We in Northern Ireland need national bodies to recognise that LGBT rights here are not being taken forward, something that as Liberal Democrats we can ensure through our national LGBT+ organisation but others need to help our voice be heard.

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New equalities minister has voted against equality

Lynne Featherstone who had introduced the equal marriage legislation into Westminster for England and Wales has been replaced by Maria Miller in her role as Equalities Minister within the Home Office. Miller has also picked up the Culture portfolio.

This is rather worrying for a number of reasons.

In May 2008 during the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill she voted for two amendments that treatment required a father and a mother and then a male role model. Both these votes were rejected allowing Lesbian couples to benefit for IVF treatment.

She also voted for the Nadine Dorries’ amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill in 2011 that would have meant women seeking an abortion being required to seek independent counselling from another organisation not linked to a termination provider.

It is somewhat scary that a women with such a narrow view on equality should be brought into this role at such a crucial stage for marriage equality. It appears to be a pandering to the right on this issue bringing in someone so socially conservative into this role just now.

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Who’s bullying who on equal marriage?

Earlier today one of Northern Ireland’s (or at least Stephen Nolan’s) top political commentators David Vance tweeted.

Seeking to impose “Gay Marriage” on Churches is the act of an [sic] bullying State. It also smacks of rampant intolerance, ironically.

Well if the state were going to impose something that some churches are opposed to unto them then I would agree. But of course that is not what is happening, in England and Wales they are looking at introducing civil equal marriage, in Scotland they are looking at expanding it to faith groups by allowing those that want to do so.

However, in light of the this being on the same day that the established Church of England says that allowing equality in civil-marriage is a threat to the very establishment of that Church, you have to ask who is the bully, who is intolerant.

The established state of the Church of England makes it the only faith group as of right that has representation in the legislature of this country. Chief Rabbi’s have been afforded similar positions but this is behest of the Government of the day not some divine right.

Since the middle of the 19th Century all the non-conformists (ie non-Anglican) people in these islands have been treated equally. Something that the Church of England with its authoritarian and state recognised position gave up reluctantly. For example Presbyterians here in Northern Ireland still had to pay a tithe to the local Church of Ireland.

So even if the remit wasn’t restricted, in the England and Wales consultation, to merely civil marriage what about the other faith groups? They don’t have a seat (or rather seats) at the heart of Government, but they are restricted from performing same-sex marriages even if they wish to do so. Some of these like the Quakers and Unitarians have suffered under the intolerance of the Church of England in the past.

Maybe a contrary tweet to David’s should read:

Seeking not to allow “Equal Marriage” for faith groups that wish to do so is the act of a bullying established Church. It also smacks of rampant intolerance, ironically.

You then also have a commentator on ConservativeHome who seems to claim that the only reason to do something is to retain votes saying that equal marriage is not that. Thankfully the Lib Dems didn’t take that attitude in 2010 or who knows what state the nation doing the right thing can hurt in the ballot box, it doesn’t make it any less right.

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