A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Same sex marriage
09/12/2012 07:43:00


I am one of 19 leading Conservatives who have written to The Sunday Telegraph in support of Freedom to Marry, a group campaigning to win the freedom of same sex couples to marry and to ensure that religious freedom is protected at the same time.

Opinion polls show that more people support same sex marriage than oppose it but that this is an issue that most people don’t feel strongly about one way or the other. However, they also show notable differences of opinion between different groups in society with older people and people of faith, perhaps unsurprisingly, more likely to be opposed. And as I know from my inbox and postbag, some of those who oppose the idea feel very strongly about it.

Some have sought to dismiss such people as nothing more than bigots, but the vast majority of the people who have contacted me have made it clear that they support equal legal rights for same sex couples; however, they question why this change is necessary given that we already have civil partnerships, they don’t like the Government changing the meaning of the word marriage and they worry that this is the thin end of the wedge and their church, mosque or synagogue will end up having to marry same sex couples too. These are serious objections that deserve an answer. I held a public meeting about this issue back in May to understand them in detail and I believe that they can be addressed.

Let’s take them in turn.

First, why is change necessary?

There’s an obvious argument of principle - telling same sex couples “You don’t need to get married, you’ve got civil partnerships” isn’t so different from when black people in the Deep South used to be told “You don’t need to sit in this part of the bus, you’ve got your own seats at the back”.

During my public meeting someone also made a good practical point. We all have to fill in all sorts of official forms, many of which ask us our marital status. It is an offence for someone who is in a civil partnership to describe themselves as married so in effect these forms are requiring people to declare their sexuality. Some people may be completely relaxed about this, but others may not.

Finally, there is an irony here. Many of the people who object most strongly to same sex marriage are also the most passionate advocates of marriage as a force for good in our society. On the latter point, I agree with them. The evidence suggests it is the best environment in which to bring up children (though that doesn’t mean that single parents or cohabiting couples can't do a great job - many do) but society benefits from people forming stable, mutually-supporting relationships even if those involved don’t have children - they are likely to be happier and they are less likely to need help from the state if they lose their job or get sick. If marriage is such a good thing, why wouldn’t we want to extend it to same sex couples?

Second, why change the meaning of a long-established word? It is certainly true that this issue would be a lot simpler if we didn’t use the same word to describe a government-established legal contract and a religious sacrament, but that pass was sold a long time ago. The truth is we have continually changed the meaning of the word. Prior to 1836, a legal marriage had to take place in a religious setting. We’ve made it much easier to get divorced and we’ve allowed divorcees to remarry. And if, as some people have suggested to me, marriage is specifically for procreation, why do we allow people who are past child-bearing age to get married?

Third and most importantly, isn’t it the case that this is just the thin end of the wedge, that any law that Parliament passes will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights and churches, mosques and synagogues will end up being forced to conduct same sex marriages? If, when I’ve seen the Bill and the legal advice from the Attorney General, I think there is a risk of this happening then I won’t vote for the Bill. I hope that the Government will make it clear on the face of the Bill that this law won’t apply to any religious group that doesn’t want to conduct same sex marriages - the right to freedom of religion is just as important as the right of same sex couples to get married and it must be possible in the 21st Century to accommodate both.

And there are three good reasons for believing that there won’t be a successful challenge. First, the European Convention on Human Rights includes the right to freedom of religion, which the Court would have to give significant weight to. Second, for years the law has allowed divorced people to remarry but there has never been a successful challenge forcing say the Catholic Church to remarry divorced people. And third some European countries have introduced same sex marriage and there hasn’t been a successful challenge.

But my main response to those who say to me “My faith doesn’t believe in same sex marriage and it would be wrong for the Government to impose it on us” is to say “I agree - but it would equally wrong for you to prevent those faiths (eg the Unitarian Church) that do want to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so”. The religious freedom argument works both ways. And in this sense, the revised Government proposal that the Prime Minister alluded to on Friday is preferable to the original proposal. The original proposal was to allow same sex civil marriages, but not in any religious setting. The revised proposal - to allow same sex marriage both civil and in any religious setting that wants to, but to protect those who don’t wish to conduct such marriages - better respects the principle of religious freedom, significantly improving the likelihood of resisting any legal challenge.

Provided there is protection for faith groups that take a different view, then, I believe same sex marriage will strengthen society not weaken it. It will allow those who love another human being of the same sex to exchange the same vows as Karen and I exchanged, to be treated equally to us under the law and I will be proud to be one of the MPs who made it happen.

Finally a word about the politics. As I hope is clear from the above, I have thought long and hard about this issue and taken the time to listen to the concerns of those who are opposed. I am voting for it, provided there is protection for religious freedom, because I think it is the right thing to do. But many of the people who have contacted me expressing their concern have argued that it will cost me votes (and to be fair some of the people arguing for same sex marriage have also used electoral arguments) so it would be remiss not to comment on this angle. I think it is very difficult to make judgements about the electoral impact of this decision. The poll I linked to above showed that more people were in favour than against but slightly more people felt strongly against than strongly in favour. In any case, there is strong evidence that people are not very good at predicting what will determine their vote in a couple of years’ time (if they were, politics would be a much simpler business!) But I would make two observations. First, there is a strong feeling that this country is becoming increasingly secular with little regard for people’s faith. Second, for too long our Party has allowed itself to be portrayed as against people - against immigrants, against single mums, against gay and lesbian people. It seems to me that a Conservative Party that stands up for religious freedom but is also for those who love and want to make a public commitment to another human being of the same sex and for a society in which everyone is treated equally under the law would be best placed to win an overall majority at the next Election - and would deserve to do so.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 10/12/2012 17:58:00 John Mulholland wrote:
Eloquent, Considered, Compassionate, Inclusive, Thank you!!
On 11/12/2012 13:55:00 Mark Goddard wrote:
Good for you! This legislation will be only the second example in my lifetime of a law that will genuinely mean something to me personally (the first being civil partnerships).

I grew up under Thatcher, the gay son of a one parent family in Croydon, and got used to the endless moral scapegoating that the Conservatives subjected me to - ironic, given that I was otherwise a nice middle class child and classic Tory voting material - and the result of my experience was a real hatred towards the Tories. To have a group of Conservatives now fighting for me to be treated as an equal is so refreshing and something I never thought I would see.

On 11/12/2012 14:19:00 Jim wrote:
The state shouldn't be marrying anyone.

It should restrict itself to civil partnerships and they should be available to all. If people are convinced God exists (or they like old buildings) and go off to church, then that's a matter for them and the church. If they want some kind of hippy service under Stonehenge and call it marriage, then so be it.

I would also extend civil partnerships to all consenting adults. Why shouldn't two elderly sisters living together have the same rights (ie tax benefits through civil partnership etc) as, other adults?

Oh and what about threesomes?

On 11/12/2012 19:56:00 C D J Nelson wrote:
Dear Mr Barwell,

Same Sex Marriages

Thank you for expressing your views on same sex marriage so clearly. I am , however, totally opposed to the State seeking to redefine the centuries old view of marriage as being between a man and a woman. I have no objection to Civil Partnerships or the union of two people of the same sex being celebrated in a Church but that can never be a "marriage"

On 11/12/2012 23:33:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
On a practical note the main cynical reason for getting married is to avoid inheritance tax if one of you dies. If you have assets less than £325,000 you dont have to pay this tax anyway. So why bother?
On 14/12/2012 12:48:00 Matt Miller wrote:
I have nothing against gay people and accept that some people are "wired up" differently to others but I am not keen on the idea of gay marriage. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I feel that civil partnerships give gay people all the legal rights that married couples have anyway. And secondly, because I think that if gay couples are allowed to marry in churches, it won't be long before a couple takes a church which has "opted out" of the legislation to the European Court of Human Rights and try to force them into doing something which is contrary to their religious beliefs.
On 17/12/2012 13:17:00 Michael Fowler wrote:
Provision can, and must rightly, be given to same-sex couples affording the same legal and social rights as married couples. This can be achieved by including these rights by amending the terms of a Civil Partnership, something that is within the remit of government. So there is no need to change the fundamental principle, defined before written law existed, that marriage be a voluntary union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Redefining this principle is not for any government, nor any political party seeking votes, to interfere with.


State interference in the church has historically never been good for any country and as the Church avoids the populist policies and kneejerk reactions of politics, it has survived considerably longer than any political party has.


Referring to the points you raised in your post, the shameful period of racial segregation in the USA was a political imposition of the 1950’s / 60’s. It was wrong and vehemently opposed by the free-thinking majority. It was not however upholding an ancient principle, so a poor analogy.


If filling in a form requires someone to state if ‘married’ etc. , then change the law to ensure all forms can only ask if ‘married or civil partner’. Then nobody need declare their sexual orientation.


A couple will remain together or separate regardless of what their union is called. The family stability of a couple is a result of all the qualities of a loving caring relationship; this is equally attainable by same-sex couples to the benefit of all.


You are confusing the state’s provision for easier divorce and re-marriage with that of the Church’s. The erosion of the Church’s independence of the state will continue despite your reassurances. As you fear in your last paragraph, you will not know the electoral impact of supporting this erosion, but Conservative Party PR and vote grabbing is misplaced and without mandate for an issue as fundamental as this.

On 18/12/2012 15:55:00 P Gregory wrote:
A Civil Partnership has already been provided if so wished. but the definition of marriage should still be between the opposite sex. It is not a criminal offence if unmarried couples live together so and I cannot understand the need for same sex couples insisting on Marriage. Would the naition approve if Prince William had walked up the aisle with a male partner?

I will not vote for anyone/party who insists on changing the Law.

There are some provisions which have been made in other aspects of life/law which were promised would not lead to wider abuses but that has certainly not proven to be the case.

I will only vote for someone who has the same point of view as I and also I wish my grandchildren not to persuaded that 'anything goes'

On 18/12/2012 19:02:00 Zehera wrote:
I never knew you would support this petition and going against the writings in Bible.

Same sex marriage was never allowed but what can we do? This Conservative party has taken

this country from Bad to Worse. Let us hope the curse of our creator does not sink this country as

it nearly did to America by sending the natural disaster called SANDY

On 19/12/2012 01:33:00 Carol wrote:
I think gay marriage will weaken churches because whatever the public position of a church there will be opposing views within the church. The recent furore within the C of E over women bishops is a case in point. When such fissures occur within an organisation splinter groups happen. At a personal level this does not affect me so it will not influence my vote.
On 10/01/2013 10:42:00 E.G Dack wrote:
.I voted for you as I was in agreement with the Consevative Manifestow.Same sex marriage was NOT mentioned,so I cannot accept your supporting ttis issue on my behalf.Your analogy of black people having to sit at the bach of the bus etc, is inappropriate as Civil Parnership have all the legal aspects as marriage,whereas black Americans did NOT have the save legal status as the whites.I hate typing so will stop now,but you will realse that I,and probably my wife,will not be voting Conservatve if you continue on this path
On 26/01/2013 05:04:00 Anonymous wrote:
Mr Barwell, I am a 17 year old student from Croydon who just so happens to be gay and you are a breath of fresh air. I as a Labour supporter could quite easily say that what you are doing is wrong for such and such reason but no I have to be truthful and say you are an amazing man and dont you dare listen to the views of ignorant constituents who don't understand how much what you are standing for means to thousands upon thousands of the youth of the UK. Because of what you are doing I might live out my life goal of marrying someone I love and adopting a child and raising him or her as my own child. You are making many people greatly happy and because of this you and any other Conservative who are as liberal as you should be recognized as the amazing people you can be. Thank you Gavin, keep up the good work.



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