Croydon’s three Members of Parliament will today all vote in favour of gay marriage, despite absolute opposition from, in one case, his church and in the case of both Conservatives, several local Tory party members.
Inside Croydon understands that the Croydon Conservative Federation – already struggling to recruit new members to sustain its funding and political activities – has received several resignations over the gay marriage issue. Local recruitment officer Jonny Cope refused to deny the resignations when contacted by Inside Croydon last night.
Given that the Church of England is supposed to be the Conservative party at prayer, the differences between church and party on gay marriage are proving difficult to reconcile. Undeterred by opposition from the Tory grassroots, Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, and Richard Ottaway, the veteran MP for Croydon South, intend to go through the Aye lobby later today.
In the case of Barwell, he has been reported to have been involved in a “nasty” confrontation at the House of Commons with a colleague from the Conservative-led government, while Ottaway, with retirement to the House of Lords beckoning, appears content to follow the calls from his party’s leadership.
“As a member of the Conservative party and of the Church of England I am intensely aware of the reservations that exist,” Lord Bletchingley announced grandly last month.
“We should recognise that the historical success of both of these institutions has been due to their willingness to evolve as society evolves.”
Yet it appears that some erstwhile members of Ottaway’s local party are uncomfortable enough with such “evolution”, some acting on their conscience and on the advice of their parish priest, that they have chosen church over the Conservatives.
Ottaway said that he had held “several discussions with constituents”, including members of the church and teachers in faith schools. This, though, has not been enough to dissuade some Conservative members from quitting the party in Croydon, as the gay marriage issue threatens to split the Tories, who face a challenge in the south of the borough from UKIP.
One member said of the party’s “pushing” gay marriage legislation that, “They just lack commonsense. They don’t know what they are doing.”
In this case, at least, party loyalty overcomes reservations: “I will still vote for them.”
For Ottaway’s party colleague Barwell, a Catholic, the conflicting demands between his religious convictions and party duty seems to have caused him particular trouble. The Daily Mail has reported a “very nasty” argument in the House of Commons’ Members’ Tea Room between Barwell and Tory MP Sir Gerald Howarth over the Croydon Central MP’s support for gay marriage.
Barwell told The Guardian that his office had been “inundated” with 200 constituents opposing gay marriage (which suggests both that the Barwell’s well-staffed constituency office is extraordinarily quiet if it feels overwhelmed by such a modest number letters and emails; and that the opposition to gay marriage in Croydon is not that substantial).
Barwell writes that he wants to see his party bring forward a married tax allowance at the same time as introducing gay marriage. This tax proposal is discriminatory against the asexual, the single, the divorced and the widowed, but Barwell sees this proposed co-incidence of policy on marriage proving that the Conservatives are not being politic in proposing equal marriage: “We have to have a balanced offering – and one that convinces the cynics that same sex marriage is not an attempt to appear modern but part of a package to support marriage and widen it so that all can benefit.”
For Steve Reed, Croydon North’s new Labour MP and a leading gay figure, this is a vote that readily follows his party’s previous legislation.
Reed wrote in Pink News as patron of Labour LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) that today’s vote for equal marriage rights is “a journey that was begun by a Labour government nearly 50 years ago when legislation was passed to allow consensual gay sex for the first time”.
This is a reference to Leo Abse and Lord Arran’s 1967 Sexual Offences Act that was backed by Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. The Act brought about a partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality.
“Millions of LGBT people in our country care very deeply about being given the same rights as our straight friends,” Reed said.
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- Tories prepare for gay marriage vote amid defections and resignations (guardian.co.uk)
- Welsh Tory ‘no’ to gay marriage (bbc.co.uk)
- Bust-up in Commons Tea Room between Tory MPs as gay marriage rift threatens to tear party apart (dailymail.co.uk)