Britain has moved a step closer to following in the footsteps of Uruguay, New Zealand, and France, in legalizing same-sex marriage. On Tuesday the House of Commons voted 366 to 161 in favor of a same sex marriage bill, which will now go to the House of Lords next month to be considered. If the bill passes the House of Lords, Britain would become only the 14th country in the world to legalize same sex marriage, after Uruguay, New Zealand, and France did so earlier this year.
Although the bill will most likely face strong opposition in the House of Lords, the eventual legalization of same sex marriage in Britain seems inevitably given the growing trend towards increasing recognition of LGBT rights around world and growing support amongst the British public.
The Conservative Party is deeply divided over the issue of same sex marriage, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who wants the first same sex marriages to be able to be held early next year, had to rely on his coalition partner the Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labour Party to get the bill passed. Eleven more Conservative MPs, 128, voted against the bill than voted for it, marking the second such revolt by the party after 136 Conservative MPs voted against holding a second reading of the bill back in February.
On Tuesday, MPs voted down a series of amendments to the bill including one that would have allowed registrars to opt out of conducting same sex marriage ceremonies (defeated by a 190 vote majority), and one designed to protect the religious beliefs of people who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman (defeated by a 201 vote majority). Another amendment, proposed by Conservative MP Tim Loughton, to allow heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships, was defeated by 375 votes to 70, a majority of 305. While Loughton, who is against gay marriage, insisted that his amendment was not an attempt to derail the bill, many MPs, including those in his own party and the prime minister's office, labelled it a "wrecking amendment" designed to do exactly that.
While a recent poll has shown that the majority of Britons are in favor of same sex marriage, there is still strong opposition amongst many members of the Conservative Party. Many fear that Prime Minister Cameron's support for same-sex marriage is pushing traditional Conservative voters towards the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and is damaging relations between Cameron and his own party. While their fears may be justified, Cameron should be applauded for supporting same sex marriage and being prepared to continue to push for it in face of significant opposition from his own party.
Just as in other places where the issue of same sex marriage has been debated, the case of those who are opposed to it has not been helped by some of the absurd arguments that have been forward. Former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Tebbit recently claimed that legalizing same sex marriage opens up the possibility of a lesbian queen giving birth to a future heir by artificial insemination and that the bill may also allow him to marry his own son to avoid inheritance tax.
Despite the opposition of many Conservative MPs, and ridiculous comments like Tebbit's, one can take heart from fact that public support for same sex marriage in Britain is growing and from the comments of Conservative MPs such as former police minister Nick Herbert, who pointed out that the bill "will do no harm but a very great deal of good by celebrating love and commitment." Herbert added that those of his colleagues who oppose the bill will be shown to be wrong in time, just as those who opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality were. Lets hope that the House of Lords keeps this in mind when it considers the bill next month. According to the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow, the size of the majorities in favor of same sex marriage in the House of Commons "makes it hard to see how the Lords can block the bill."