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16 May 2013

Standing up for marriage

Standing up for marriage

The controversial bill to redefine marriage will be debated again by MPs on the floor of the House of Commons on 20 and 21 May as they consider amendments to the proposals at report stage and third reading.

A majority of MPs voted in favour of a second reading in February despite more Conservative MPs voting against David Cameron's bill than for it. If the bill is once again backed by MPs it will move on to the House of Lords where it is scheduled for second reading on 3 June. The approach to the bill in the House of Lords could be very different from that in the Commons. A ComRes survey earlier in the year indicated many Lords believed the proposals for same-sex marriage should be delayed until it was clearly established, for example in a national referendum, to what extent the public actually support it.

More recent polls suggest that a significant public majority consider the issue to be non-priority and potentially socially divisive at a time when tackling the economy and other headline issues are much more important. Among those voters who supported the Conservatives at the last general election, 46 per cent wanted same-sex marriage legislation dropped, with only 22 per cent in favour.

Following the recent local elections David Cameron has been widely criticised both within his own party and by the general public for being out of touch with ordinary voters. UKIP, which officially opposes redefining marriage, saw a dramatic increase in support to some 25 per cent of the national vote. Gay marriage was a notable factor in this landmark political development.

However, notwithstanding the huge threat that the haemorrhage of support poses for the Conservatives at the next general election, David Cameron seems determined to continue to try to force through this deeply unpopular and controversial measure.

It's not just the Conservatives that have suffered. The recent ComRes poll confirmed that all three main parties would lose significant votes because they support the redefinition of marriage. Much debate will surround the validity of legal protection to the population living and working in public life who do not accept that governments have the authority to redefine a human institution that has existed from the dawn of time and helps define human civilisation.

The Coalition for Marriage (C4M) has received high level legal advice suggesting that most of the much-vaunted government protections built into the Bill will not be able to survive determined legal challenge. For example, even before the Bill has become law gay activists are pressing for churches and charitable bodies that receive public funding for community projects to be denied such funding if they do not support the full equality agenda. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, has recently accused lottery distributors of supporting faith groups 'with extremist views' and who use lottery money 'to peddle fundamentalist prejudice and bigotry.'

The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has also called for an urgent review of lottery grant distribution in which lottery money is withheld from organisations 'that promote prejudice and discriminatory values' through 'anti-gay bigotry'. He argues that tighter controls need to be established over public grants 'to ensure that homophobic and other hate-mongering organisations do not get funding.'

This is reminiscent of attempts made during passage of the 2006 UK Charities Act to legally disqualify charitable organisations that do not fully come on board with the so-called 'equality agenda'. Those who warned of such future scenarios have frequently been accused of scaremongering. However, an indication of such a development for charitable organisations in the UK is demonstrated by the recent experience of a pro-family group in New Zealand which has been notified that it will lose its charitable status because it campaigned in support of traditional marriage. New Zealand recently legalised gay marriage, and now officials have informed the charity Family First NZ that it will be deregistered. New Zealand's charity regulator has stated that the group's beliefs about marriage are political because they 'do not have a public benefit'.

Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First NZ, commented: "This is a highly politicised decision which is grim evidence that groups that think differently to the prevailing politically correct view will be targeted in an attempt to shut them up." He added: "You know a country is in trouble when a family group speaking up, publishing research, and holding conferences on traditional family values is deemed to be of no public benefit, and is in the public interest to be punished. It seems to be almost illegal to hold a viewpoint." Family First NZ will lose its charitable status unless it appeals to the New Zealand High Court by 27 May.

As same-sex marriage is debated in parliament during May, June and July, Christians everywhere are being called to pray, especially during a national day of prayer on Sunday, 2 June.