So, the Government has published the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 (that page by the way, bookmark it - contains links to latest version of the bill, details of progress and dates, and details of how bills progress through Parliament). It had it's first reading (I understand this to basically be "yep, it's a bill, it has words and everything" and allows it to be formally published) on 24th January. The second reading (this is where principals of the bill get debated and the House decides whether it likes the general idea of what is happening) is on Tuesday 5th February. After that it will normally go to a committee to discuss fine detail and consider amendments before returning to the full House for Third Reading which says "Yep, we're happy, now off to the other place".
The Second Reading is therefore the first place where it could come off the rails. And this is happening on Tuesday.
Opponents of the bill are currently handing out postcards via churches and church schools for church goers and parents to send to MPs urging them to vote against the bill. The usual chestnuts are cropping up: no mandate, undemocratic, teachers facing the sack, Churches are not immune to Europe, "undermining" marriage, redefining 'husband' and 'wife'... oh, and they seemed to have slipped a pro- argument in there too, it leading to the disestablishment of the Church and separation of Church and State... oh, wait, they see that as a bad thing... my ooops. In addition to the rebuttals I've done and linked to, JaeKay has done a particularly wonderful detailed post here.
Anyway, to counter this, we need to make sure that as many people as possible write to their MP reminding them (or telling them) that they support equal marriage and want to see their MP voting for it. I have written as below (including some of my own concerns about the bill) despite having had no response to any of my previous letters on the subject (still) and hope you will do the same. Details of how to contact you MP can be found at The Coalition for Equal Marriage website or through Write To Them.
For those that live in Warrington, Helen Jones (Warrington North) and David Mowatt (Warrington South) are both listed as "likely to vote in favour" on the Coalition for Equal Marriage Support Table (although Mowatt has also suggested in a newspaper article that the plans should be shelved as we need to focus on the economy and, as far as I can tell, Jones has been utterly silent except to LGBT Labour).
3rd February 2013
Dear Ms Jones,
I am writing to follow up my letters of 12th June and 15th December regarding my response to the Equal Civil Marriage consultation. As you will no doubt be aware, the government has now produced a draft Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and a second reading is scheduled for Tuesday 5th February.
I understand from the Coalition for Equal Marriage website that you have confirmed to LGBT Labour your intention to vote in favour of Equal Marriage and would like to express my thanks for this support.
While I dislike the fact that this legislation further strengthens the right of churches to treat me as a second class citizen, I understand the compromise that has been forged and am happy to see that it is now a choice that churches (even if it is subject to their own hierarchies) can make. I am disappointed that the Labour front bench is currently strongly attacking the proposals on the issue of the disproportionate strength of the “quadruple lock" - I am confident that the Church can lobby quite sufficiently to retain its religious freedom, after all it lobbied quite sufficiently to risk losing it.
Instead I would ask that focus is placed on some more important problems in the proposals which need addressing. The consultation response recognises that the majority of respondents felt that the status quo of Civil Partnerships only open to same-sex couples was inappropriate with Equal Marriage. It is disappointing therefore that they feel that the time is not right to make the changes to open the status to opposite-sex couples or phase it out. I would like to ask whether you would support any moves to resolve the issues of un-equal Civil Partnerships introduced.
I am also disappointed that the government seems unwilling to consider extending equality into adultery and consummation either by removal or extending them. As it stands the act of being unfaithful can only be treated as adultery if it is between people of the opposite sex which undermines the idea of equality of relationships and the pain and hurt that can be caused through any form of cheating. Similarly, the fact that (a form of) consummation is not required of a marriage between a same-sex couple but is between an opposite-sex couple puts a very different understanding of the relationship.
I am also concerned that a lot of issues around the recognition of relationships involving trans* people remain unresolved. I would ask that you take on board representations of the trans* community in trying to resolve these.
Finally, I would ask that attention is paid to the inequalities arising in pensions which will still exist with Equal Marriage.
As I am most concerned that opponents of the bill will show in full force on Tuesday and in any subsequent readings, I hope that you will indeed be at the debate and the vote to vote in favour of the bill and are able to pass on my concerns to anyone involved in the more detailed discussion of the bill at Committee Stage.