The equality bill, with its provisions for churches to host civil partnerships, has cracked Westminster's veneer of tolerance
Anyone would think there's an election on the horizon. Jubilant Labour activists are delighted that David Cameron has been caught on camera – in an interview broadcast on Channel 4 News last night – appearing to prevaricate evasively not only over his dodgy European allies but also over whether he should have told his MPs and peers to back amendments to the new equality bill which will permit churches to host civil partnership ceremonies if they wish.
What short memories politicians have. Just three weeks ago it was the Labour party itself that refused to whip members of the House of Lords in support of this perfectly reasonable provision. Labour peers were subject to furious arm-twisting from cabinet ministers in a bid to frustrate a modest further step towards equality.
Consequently it was a heroic quartet of backbenchers, including Lord Alli, Lady Neuberger – "Which Jewish mother wouldn't want to see their child married in a synagogue?" – and the Tory peer Lady Noakes, who shamed the Lords into adopting this perfectly fair-minded proposal supported by Stonewall and others.
The Tories initially put up Lord Hunt of Wirral to explain their opposition. In the end, just like the government, the Conservatives gracelessly offered their peers a free vote.
Liberal Democrats, however cuddly, aren't immune from anti-gay spite. Yesterday the Roman Catholic peer Lady Williams also sought to move an amendment in the Lords that would have given adoption agencies the right to turn away homosexual clients. Her suggestion would have driven a coach and horses through the now settled principle of adoption, that it's solely the welfare of the child and not personal prejudices that should always come first. (You might think that if Lady Williams was motivated, as suggested, by the need to "protect children", the Roman Catholic church might have other priorities at present.)
The message seems pretty clear. Whatever parties tell gay voters they've done for them in the recent and distant past, ask what they'll be doing in the future. And don't make presumptions about individual candidates on the basis of their party allegiance either.
Stonewall's analysis of MPs' votes in the current parliament shows that George Osborne and Francis Maude have better recent voting records on gay equality than one in five Lib Dem MPs. And Kate Hoey, the least gay-friendly of all Labour MPs, has a voting record worse than more than 120 Conservatives.
All of which demonstrates that, however gay-friendly they are or claim to be, most politicians still lag sadly some years behind the progressive instinct of a decent British public. But then we, of course, are the one group of people whose voices won't get heard in the next six weeks at all.
Article by Ben Summerskill from www.guardian.co.uk
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