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David Burrowes MP: Today is not about gay rights but about defending the historical purpose of marriage

Burrowes DavidDavid Burrowes is Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate. Follow David on Twitter.

The debate today gives MPs the opportunity to rise above the media's obsession with the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party and also some of the vitriol and hate-filled abuse that has come to the surface. I have tried to avoid media discussion between Conservatives but as we approach the debate today I want to focus on why Conservative MPs should oppose the Marriage Bill.

There is talk about which side of history colleagues will be on when the votes are recalled in years to come. I don't think today will go down as the day when gay rights were significantly advanced. That day was in 2004 with the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act which provides legal rights similar to marriage. Nor do I think today is about tackling homophobia and the place of gay people in society. Criminal law (like the homophobic hatred offence which Nick Herbert and I as Shadow Justice Ministers supported) and anti-discriminatory laws have set the framework. Now Conservatives instinctively look to education and culture for respecting the equal value of men and women regardless of their sexuality. So, for example, I was pleased to recently speak at a conference of my local secondary school's teachers about tackling homophobic hatred. Redefining marriage is the wrong vehicle to send out signals about homosexuality.

I do believe many people (and particularly our constituents in 2015) will look back at today and ask whether their Conservative MP stood up for marriage. We have always been the Party that has defended the social institution of marriage. Marriage has never been just about the happiness and fulfilment of the individuals involved. It is part of a bigger picture – human societies need stable family groupings, especially for the nurture and care of children. The man-woman union at the heart of marriage has to do with this bigger picture. The current demand to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples is the logical outworking of a revised understanding of marriage, which is in danger of reducing it to a merely personal and private relationship.

Conservatives have usually shied away from extreme individualism. The fulfilment of individual adults taking centre-stage with the demand that societal, communal and family obligations must be challenged if they threaten individual happiness. When it is the State that is leading this charge and marriage is the institution under threat, Conservatives usually know which side of the argument they want to be on.

Children and parenthood barely get mentioned by supporters of the Bill despite the fact that this is the prevailing reason for most couples getting married. You could begin to think that marriage was all about the value of adulthood and not the value of parenthood. Of course same sex couples raise children in loving homes and not all marriages involve children. But over the centuries Society and Church have had a united view of the essential purpose of marriage, to provide a stable institution for the care of children. Now the State is trying to divide and rule the meaning of marriage. It is up to Conservatives to vote for freedom from the overeaching hand of the State.

On the subject of freedom Conservatives will be concerned about Professor John Corvino's admission in "Debating Same-Sex Marriage" (2012) that the introduction of same-sex marriage will necessarily involve opposite views being marginalised. For him, this is a price worth paying. Those colleagues who have put their head above the parapet will have already paid a price - finding themselves on the receiving end of bigotry and hatred. To shut down or silence individuals or organisations that disagree with gay marriage, with the backing of a new State orthodoxy, could increasingly be regarded as the right and moral thing to do. Conservatives need to stand up for freedom of conscience not just for churches and other faiths on the wedding day but every other day such as in workplaces or schools.

Today I would then urge colleagues to vote against the redefinition of marriage and tomorrow we can get on with the real job which we have a mandate to deliver - which is building economic and social recovery.

> Also on ConHome today, Bernard Jenkin MP makes the case for including same-sex couples within the institution of marriage.


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