Gay Marriage England: Cameron Goes Against His Own Party With Landmark Legislation

The British government voted in favour of a bill that will legalise same-sex marriage, however David Cameron did not have an easy ride on the way to passing the bill.

Whilst it is a win for equality and the LGBT community in the UK, the issue has evoked intense debate that has polarised the nation as a battle between us and them, those with faith against those without, but it has also exposed huge divisions within the political parties, which could be dangerous for David Cameron.

What's the law on same-sex partnerships in the UK?

In 2005, the government introduced the Civil Partnership Act, which allowed same-sex couples to enjoy the same rights identical to a civil marriage.

The difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage is in the main that a civil partnership is not recognised in the UK as a marriage in the legal sense, and also the fact that civil partnerships are not carried out in a religious institutions.

Although civil partnerships enjoy the same benefits you get from a marriage, campaigners argue the term "civil partnership" is seen as not having as much value as a heterosexual marriage.

Why does the Church of England matter in all of this?

Some of the Church of England's own laws (canon law) is part of the law of the land.

The Church has staunchly stood by the canon law that says marriage is a union between a man and a woman. That said, there are some members of the Church of England who do support gay marriage, but this is in a minority, and the newly ordained Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby confirmed his opposition to the plans. This has led the government to include in their proposal that all religious organisations can "opt in" if they want to hold gay marriage ceremonies, but puts a ban on the Church of England and Wales offering same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Why this matters is because changing the laws on marriage will question the role of the established Church. The significance of the Church of England in the UK's legislative process is given the fact that senior bishops from the Church have seats in the House of Lords (the UK's equivalent of the Senate).

Why has this divided the Conservative Party?

Cameron always made it clear that he is a fan of the institutions "family" and "marriage"; values that are music to the ears of the more traditional conservative grassroots. Indeed one of his more popular policy proposals included a tax incentive for people who got married (the so-called marriage tax), which has been ruled out in the next budget in March, to the confusion of his own party.

As well as the religious element with some members holding strong religious beliefs, one of the main reasons why a part of the Conservative Party is so vehemently opposed to it is the fact that plans to introduce gay marriage was not in the party's manifesto. Those who are against are of the view that Cameron is aware that gay marriage will divide the party, yet instead of focusing on key policy issues is choosing to focus on a manifesto policy they never campaigned on.

Whilst 127 Conservative MPs voted for the bill, 132 voted against; that's more than half of his own party, which is worrying not just for Cameron but also for the voters.

The Conservatives have long had this stigma of being occupied mainly by older, white, middle-class men and critics often dub them as "out of touch" with the public, citing welfare, education, and health as failures of the government.

The party failed to win an overall majority in the 2010 election, forcing them to work in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, since then the government has seen no end to their misfortunes; the Conservatives lost quite a few local elections since 2010, and whilst Cameron's promise of a referendum on the UK's membership to the EU gave him a lift in the polls, it was quickly dispelled following rumours of a potential leadership challenge should the economy go back into recession and should the party fail to make any gains in any upcoming local elections.

Why has this divided the nation?

Various polls suggest that a majority of the British population supports same-sex marriage. However, given a backdrop of slumping GDP figures along with the threat of the country going into a triple-dip recession, some of the voters feel that the government should be focusing on getting the economy back on track. The amount of disunity that has been created was also shown in a recent poll, and could rub off on the voters.

What now?

Whilst the bill has passed the first hurdle, there are many more to come as it goes through the scrutiny stages, first to the committee where amendments will be tabled, then back to the House of Commons again before going to the House of Lords, where it is likely to be sent back to the Commons for a rethink.

Cameron's mission to modernize a party that has been long seen as old-fashioned has come at a cost, the support of the party who elected him as leader.