|Nicola Blackwood, MP; Conservative.|
Dear ***************,Needless to say, I have expressed my disappointment to Nicola Blackwood.
Thank you for writing to me about the third reading of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. In the event, I reluctantly voted against the Bill.
I have taken a great deal of time to engage closely with the detail of this Bill and met with constituents on all sides of the argument, including equal rights campaigners, religious leaders and Ministers to discuss concerns about the Bill's drafting and implications before coming to a conclusion about how to vote.
From the beginning my concerns have not centred on the issues surrounding the definition of marriage. As a strong supporter of civil partnerships and opponent of discrimination in all its forms, I have no principled objection to equal marriage in secular institutions. I abstained from voting in the Second Reading because although I support the principle of the Bill, my concerns about details of the legislation meant I felt I could not vote for it before there was a chance to address these concerns through debate and amendments.
Initially I was disappointed that this Bill did not extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and that is why I voted for amendments NC16 and NC16(a) which will provide a prompt review of civil partnerships legislation. I am pleased that this compromise has been reached as it gives hope to many couples who are currently excluded from civil partnerships and unprotected by the legal rights it offers. My only remaining concern on this issue is that the timeframe and scope of this review remain unclear at this point.
Unfortunately, however, my other concerns about the detail of the Bill, and its potential unintended consequences, have remained unresolved.
In particular, although I voted for two amendments that sought to ensure protection of religious freedom, these did not pass and were not accepted by the Government. In the light of this, and given the vastly contradictory legal opinions offered by Aidan O'Neil QC and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers, two of the most pre-eminent human rights barristers in this country, about the strength of the protections provided to religious institutions by the Bill, I am not convinced that these protections will work if challenged in the ECtHR, as is very likely. If you would like me to send you a copy of these legal opinions I would be delighted to do so.
I voted against the Bill quite simply because I could not be sure that the measures in the Bill for the protection of religious freedom would work in the way the Government intends and because the amendments designed to strengthen these protections were not accepted.
I felt as though this Bill, through poor drafting and rushed consultation, had become a choice between religious freedom and equality. In the end, as a supporter of both, I could not find a way to support a Bill that did not guarantee the protection of both.
I do hope that this helps to explain my position. Please do get back in touch with me if I can be of further assistance on this or any other topic.
|Tom Watson, MP; Labour.|
***********,These emails probably illustrate the fundamental differences between the Conservative and Labour Parties on the issue of Human rights and equality before the law.
It was wonderful to finally see the gay marriage bill pass through the House of Commons last night. I am delighted that we are so close to having equal marriage in our country, and so very proud of our party.
In the spirit of celebration, I wanted to share with you the story of one couple -- Emma and Hannah -- who are now looking forward to their wedding and to married life together. Their story, in their own words, is below.
Today is absolutely a day to celebrate, but we have a long road ahead of us.
Help us continue our fight for a fair, equal, one nation Britain: make a donation to the Labour Party now.
Thank you for all your support and hard work.
It's been eight years since I met my partner Hannah.
Since then, we've had the joy of watching some of our closest friends and family members get married. The one sadness for us was not knowing when -- or even if -- we would ever be able to make that commitment ourselves.
All we have ever wanted is for our relationship to be seen as equal and today we can see a future where we too will be able to get married.
To see the equal marriage legislation pass through the House of Commons yesterday was a huge moment for us, and we are incredibly grateful to all the politicians who supported it.
We know this moment would never have come without the Labour Party's unwavering support for and leadership on gay equality -- from repealing Section 28 to introducing civil partnerships.
We have never been more proud to be members of this party, and we just wanted to say thank you to everyone who's campaigned for and supported this bill.
Emma Norris and Hannah Stoddart
(Emma on the left in the photo, Hannah on the right)