I was pleased as punch yesterday, when I received an email from Richard Fuller, MP for my home town of Bedford after I told him that I was “bitterly disappointed” by his decision to abstain from the vote. You can read my full letter to him here.
I can respect that the bill in itself does have areas where vast improvement is needed. I personally feel that Civil Partnerships should be made available to heterosexuals. However, during the consultation period is was noted by Maria Miller, the author of the bill, that there was no real demand for this. It can be argued that some are using the fact that this was omitted that attempt to halt the development of the bill. However, there is an argument here. From a personal point of view, I am aware of some heterosexual couples who would welcome a Civil Partnership as they feel that religion (for whatever reason) does not apply to them.
The other areas of the bill that need attention are the ‘consummation of marriage’ and ‘adultery’. A good friend of mine has made recent jokes that on Gaydar the term “open marriage” may become a relationship status choice. I feel that even though some may laugh, this cynical view is not what marriage is about. Marriage is a commitment, a union between two people and that that commitment should stand. If people cheat, it’s ground for divorce. Adultery should apply in this case.
However, there is a stipulation in the bill that “unreasonable behaviour” is ground for divorce. Cheating on your partner, most would agree, would fall under this point. However, I feel the bill needs some clairification.
I said to Richard Fuller in my original letter that I felt that the religious argument was moot. Due to the fact that marriage pre-dates Christianity and that the bible is hypocritcal throughout. My personal feeling is that a relationship with god does not need a book. Whereas he agrees that faith, a personal relationship with god, is important, he does not address the points I made about this. I think that many of his constituents, who even though can’t argue with the facts, choose to ignore this. And it’s a political trick, but they need to be appeased.
I will soon return to London to speak with Richard in person once a date has been set and as the bill progresses, I will keep you updated.
In the mean time – here is a copy of his response in full:
I am very sorry that I have not be so effectively in touch with you these past weeks; and in particular that we were not able to meet ahead of the debate and vote on Tuesday. Please accept my apologies and I hope we will still be able to meet as the Bill progresses through the House of Commons (and then Lords)
Equally, I am sorry that you are bitterly disappointed in my decision to abstain. From our earlier dialogue and the speech I gave, I had hoped that I might have laid out a coherent basis for why I had taken that position. Clearly I failed to communicate that effectively. An abstention, but its very nature, is unlikely to please people, but I would have hoped to have avoided creating any bitterness. My objective was to balance the imperative to enable everyone to marry regardless of their sexuality with a recognition that this would entail very considerable, and deep, anxieties for many people for whom marriage is between a man and a woman. That dispute – over the meaning of a word – is irreconcilable on a societal basis. It has to mean one thing or another. I believe that as that change is made, it is important to be very attentive to the concerns, apprehensions of those uncertain or opposed to that change. My vote was an expression, from someone who believes in the ambitions of the Bill, of that importance.
Thanks for your comments about your experience of religion and, like you, I believe that the personal relationship with God is the one that is most important. I am not a devotee of Polly Toynbee, however !
Where do we go from here ? The Committee stage in the Commons will likely make some amendments and, in turn, these will come back for votes in the Commons. Some of these votes may be controversial and close. However, there is every chance that Mrs Miller, as she has often before on this and other issues, will be adroit in her efforts to ensure the bill is improved and sensible arrangements made if they need to be. If this is the outcome, then I believe that a larger majority of MPs, myself included, will vote to pass the Bill, and it will then be very difficult for the Lords to unfairly disrupt the will of the people as expressed in the Commons.
With best wishes