Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Heavyweight Tories hitting out over gay marriage plan

In one of yesterday’s odder political developments, a Tory MP sought to dispel accusations of bigotry by announcing he had once, er, punched a gay man. David Davies had caused a storm by saying that most parents would not want their children to be gay.

His response, via Twitter, was to post a video of himself boxing against Charles ‘Pink Pounder' Jones. He wrote that he had respected and liked his opponent, with whom he had trained after the bout. That’s OK, then.

It will certainly go down as one of the most memorable clarifications.

For the record, Davies won the bout, and the grainy footage can be viewed on YouTube.

Away from the boxing ring, the debate over gay marriage, which triggered Davies’ original comments, rumbled on.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller defended plans to allow same-sex marriage to take place in churches that wanted to carry out the ceremonies. But she does not have all of her party, or even the Cabinet, behind her.

Before she took to her feet, David Cameron had been addressing journalists, and told them he believed the “time is right” to change the law. But he stressed that his MPs will be allowed a free vote. It’s just as well.

Owen Paterson, formerly of the NIO and now in charge of the environment, is one of the heavyweights said to be sceptical. Critics fear churches will be “dragged through the courts” if they refuse to carry out same-sex ceremonies.

When the matter was debated in the Commons yesterday, Tory critics claimed the Government had “specifically excluded” churches from the original consultation, which yielded hundreds of thousands of responses.

They called for a new consultation to be launched. But ministers insist they have not changed their position.

This legislation is devolved, and so won’t directly affect Northern Ireland unless Stormont decides to follow suit.

But what it might mean for a couple from Northern Ireland travelling to England to get married is not clear. And our MPs are not steering clear of the debate taking place here at Westminster.

In choosing to push on with these plans Cameron has picked another fight with his backbenchers, following bruising encounters over Europe and the Lords.

And in attempting to pick gay marriage to show how progressive his party has become, he may end up highlighting the refusal of many of his MPs to join him on the journey.

Tom Moseley is the Belfast Telegraph’s Parliamentary Correspondent

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