Over the past year or so we have seen some interesting divisions in those people who either vote Conservative or are members of the Conservative party. A distinct division between those who are socially conservative people who want to preserve the social norm and those conservatives who are socially liberal. One that I think has come to the front heavily on the equal marriage debate.
Now on this issue David Cameron has said he supports this issue because it is a conservative issue, and I have to whole heartedly agree with him on this. Such a reform is typical of the previous great Conservative leaders of the past. This is why when I look around at what is being said by some people, I think that some Conservatives have lost their way. They have become literalists in the name thinking that to be a good Conservative you have to conserve what we have and change should only happen if it is totally needed.
To them I say poppy cock, if we look at the history of our party we can see vast swathes of social reform instigated not preservation of the norm we see the forming and forging of great ideas of progress, liberty and opportunity for all.
Let’s start with Sir Robert Peel, who as Home Secretary prior to becoming Prime Minister completely reformed the statute books having a bonfire of laws and replacing them with more simple easy to understand laws. Then going on, as Prime Minister, to introduce the Factory Act’s which limited the times that women and children could be made to work. The Railway Regulation act, the repeal of the Corn Laws. All great social changes to improve the lives of everyday people.
Then we have The Earl of Derby, who without his Jews’ Relief Act we wouldn’t have had Benjamin Disraeli as he wouldn’t have been allowed to have been an MP in the first place. Who’s work was hugely socially reforming the Chimney Sweepers Act, the Public Health Act and Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act.
Who lead on to the Marquess of Salisbury, with his introduction of Local Government, the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act and hugely the Free Education Act 1891 which ensured that all children received a free primary education. Then finally the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which ensured that if someone was injured at work they would receive recompense for it.
Then we have Stanley Baldwin and his enfranchisement of women over the age of 21, one of the biggest social changes in democratic terms the UK has seen. Then Churchill who set up the Council of Europe and gave people the ability to access redress for violations of their Human Rights. Thatcher with her Right to buy, Major with his Citizen’s Charter. Plus many many more huge social reforms I could mention.
I look around today and I see Conservatives calling for preservation of the here and now for the restriction of liberty and equality for all people and I feel that these people have lost what it means to be a true Conservative. To see a social inequality and want to fix it to rectify that bit of injustice in the world; this is what it is to be a Conservative not to want to preserve the here and now. But to want to make this nation a better place for all who live here.
That is why David Cameron is absolutely spot on when it comes to marriage equality. So next time there is a social issue being debated think “is this change going to improve the lives and liberty of people” and if the answer is yes then to support it is the Conservative thing to do.
Last night I saw some gloating on my time line that Labour may be offering a free vote on the plan to allow religions the option to offer, if they want, equal marriage. Meaning that the Quakers and the Liberal Jewish communities would be able to offer gay couples a religious marriage should they so wish. A move by David Cameron that was very wise and not only considered the religious freedoms of those opposed but also those in favour of it.
The arguments made against this by the conservative Christians who thought this was wrong and evil, were along the lines that such a decision would allow a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights and subsequently all churches would then have to offer equal marriage even if they didn’t want to.
Now I have thought about this and in reality it is a laughable argument, and would never have happened. That’s not to say a challenge wouldn’t have happened but that any such challenge wouldn’t have been successful. Because looking at the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, their main concern with discrimination cases is the use of blanket bans on things. Such as votes for prisoners, the inability for transgender people to change their birth certificates, the previous disparity in age of consent for gay people and so on.
So a law which allowed religions to offer, at their discretion, marriage to everyone would not have violated the convention and so such a case would have been defeated. Thus respecting the views of those who didn’t want to offer same sex marriage.
However and this is where it gets interesting, if marriage equality is passed and it will. Then with what is in effect a blanket ban on all religions from being able to offer it will be challenged in the ECtHR. But under this challenge the courts will find that such a ban is in violation of people’s rights, in that there will be direct discrimination between heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Now there are two fancy ways that this could happen, a challenge in the UK courts would allow the Judge to issue an order of incapability which then would give the relevant Minister of State to issue secondary legislation allowing for religious marriage equality. Or it could go all the way to the ECtHR who could equally say that the UK Government was in violation of the convention, and give them a time period to propose a change before they start awarding compensation.
Now I suggest that those people who oppose religions that wish to offer this to think carefully about this situation, as any challenge to the law would take 3 or maybe 4 years from it receiving Royal Assent. Do you want what is on offer which means that there is some flexibility in which churches can offer it, or do you want the possibility of say a Labour Government ran by the two Ed’s removing all restrictions to churches and effectively forcing it on your church? Just something to think about on this chilly winters day.