UK Gay Marriage Bill: Will David Cameron's Support Doom Conservatives?

The UK may be next in line to legalize gay marriage, but not without its own hue of red tape and conservative disgruntlement. British Prime Minister David Cameron came out strongly in favor of the bill after it passed the House of Commons in February, but his vocal support dismayed a portion of his conservative following.

In February, the bill to legalize same-sex marriage won by a landslide in the House of Commons: 400 votes in favor to 175 opposed. A Bill Committee is now debating revisions to the draft; and its next stop is the House of Lords. The bill can become law when both the House of Lords and House of Commons agree to the bill’s amendments and the Queen signs on the dotted line.

The bill proposes that same-sex couples can legally wed — except in religious institutions. Because the UK does not separate church and state even nominally, religious voices hold more clout in political processes than in the U.S. The Church of England’s Canon Law is part of the law of the land: a law that explicitly defines marriage between “one man and one woman.” The Church of England fears this bill marks the beginning of a slippery slope of legislation that threatens the institution of marriage and the integrity of the traditional family.

The bill keeps same-sex marriage illegal in the Church and other religious institutions, unless they ‘opt in’ to hold ceremonies.

The growing liberal support for the bill also threatens the conservative Tory base. The Tories lost 335 council seats to UK Independence Party in recent elections, and they lack the muscle to stop gay marriage’s inertia. Tories who oppose the bill barely edge out those who support it — a division that further dilutes their influence and solidarity.

Tories who oppose the bill hold Cameron’s position responsible for the rapidly dwindling conservative base. They fear that without Cameron on their side, they won’t have sufficient support for the next round of elections.

Political editor of BBC Nick Robinson said, "The real reason for the anger directed at David Cameron is that many Conservatives have realized that they and their attitudes are the dragon their leader has decided to slay."

Unfortunately for the Tories, Cameron is clear in his support of legalizing same-sex marriage. After the bill passed in the Commons, he said

"Today is an important day. I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too. This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger. I know there are strong views on both side of the argument — I accept that. But I think this is an important step forward for our country."

Cameron may be leaving part of his conservative following out to dry, but he’s on the bandwagon to the winning side of history. “Governments are starting to look quite ridiculous not giving equal rights to all people and all relationships,” said BJ Epstein, a lecturer in queer literature at the University of East Anglia. “In a few years people are going to wonder why it took such a long time.”

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Anna Hogeland

Anna is a clinical social worker with an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work and a BA in history from Bates College. She has clinical experience with adults with mental illness, obstetrics and oncology patients, and folks with all sorts of neuroses. She is currently a Post-Master’s fellow at CU Boulder’s counseling center. While not at her day job, Anna is writing and reading about anything and everything or making pottery. She's a native of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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