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Opposition to Equal Marriage – Sound familiar?

21 May 2013

The coalition’s Equal Marriage Bill is expected to receive its final reading in the Commons today after weathering the vocal resistance of some Conservative backbenchers. The debate saw over 100 Conservative Members noting their objections, but a proposal that would have delayed the law was defeated by 375 votes to 70.

These debates come after a difficult week for the Conservative Party and are symbolic of a rift between those in office and those at the grassroots. Chief amongst the activists complaints is that the government shouldn’t be ‘wasting’ time debating ‘gay marriage’ when they could be doing something useful, like legislating for economic growth.

Its a familiar argument.

Almost fifty years’ ago, in 1967, the second Wilson government was facing similar criticism for the support it had given to a private member’s bill which removed the illegal status of homosexual acts (put forward by Labour MP Leo Abse and supported by the Home Secretary, this was a similar technique as the Tories have adopted to debate an in-out EU referendum).

The then leader of the House of Commons, Richard Crossman, noted that the move:

‘May well be twenty years ahead of public opinion; certainly working class people in the North jeer at their Member … and ask them why they’re looking after the buggers in Westminster instead of looking after the unemployed at home’ (R.H.S Crossman, Diaries of A Cabinet Minister, vol ii (London 1976), p. 407, 3 Jul 1967)

In fairness, Wilson’s governments, which were first elected on a radical pledge to recreate Britain in the White Heat of scientific planning, had also sought to promote economic growth. But they found it harder to legislate for the economy than they did to enact a lasting social change.

I’m sure that there’s a lesson for the current government in there somewhere.

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