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Christian and traditionalist Tories have chosen the wrong fight. They've chosen to fight gay marriage, a battle they can't win. They've neglected religious liberty, a battle they can't afford to lose.

By Tim Montgomerie
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There's lots of nonsense emanating from certain pollsters, notably ComRes, about gay marriage having a disastrous impact on Tory fortunes. YouGov's Joe Twyman has Tweeted an important link which shows that the effect might well be negative in the short-term but that - AT WORST - it will reduce the Tory vote from about its current 34% to 33%. Here, in full, are Joe's numbers:


Joe's numbers don't account for the generational issue. Younger voters really cannot understand the opposition to same-sex rights. The Conservative Party rebels on gay marriage are putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

Tory MPs considering the greater potency of the issue should read Matthew Parris' brilliant article in yesterday's Times (£). Vote against equal marriage, he warned, and you'll blush at the remembering of doing so in future years:

"You will find the Act beds down fast in popular culture. You are moving into a world where all around us will be married couples of the same sex, and some will be constituents, activists, friends, children and grandchildren. You will dine with them, and canvass with them, and they will be among your audience wherever you speak. And a few will remember."

Here's the key thing. Christian and other traditionalist Tories and small 'c' conservatives have chosen the wrong fight. There is nothing they can do to stop gay marriage or other forms of equality. The battle that should concern them is the battle for religious liberty (see Peter Smith's thoughtful piece on ConHome yesterday).

We are in danger as a society of moving from one form of intolerance to another. From a culture where homosexuality was taboo to one where certain religious orthodoxies are taboo. The battle that my good friend David Burrowes MP and others should be fighting is to carve out a space in society where the right of churches to keep traditional marriage is protected and where Christian teachers are not required to promote values that offend their faith. These won't be easy battles to win but they are the only battles that traditionalists have a hope of winning.

Traditionalists need to get to what we might call the Abortion settlement rather than the Gay Adoption settlement:

  • In our Abortion laws the right for a woman to abort is enshrined in law but so is the right of doctors to refuse to take part in the abortion referral or procedure.
  • With gay adoption, however, not only was a right for same sex couples to adopt enshrined in statute, it was required of the Catholic Adoption Agency, for example, to offer adoption to gay couples. That meant a right to equality also became an attack on freedom of conscience and of association.

We need to move to a situation where people can hold what are rapidly becoming minority views as long as they are not likely to incite hatred or community tensions. At the moment the Government's response to all of these questions is piecemeal. Cameron needs to address the issue of religious freedom in a big speech. He needs to get religious leaders and charities around a table with equality campaigners and hammer out a new settlement which will protect both equal rights and freedom of association and religious thought. This could form a cornerstone of Mr Cameron's plan to enshrine a new British Bill of Rights. Perhaps Chris Grayling could begin to do some drafting. Paul Goodman will ralso address this general topic tomorrow.


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