British Prime Minister David Cameron chose to include in his key note speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Wednesday a clear message that he supports and wants to legalize marriage equality — and what is more, his words were greeted by resounding applause from the Conservative party audience.
Here’s what the Prime Minister said:
“I stood before a Conservative conference once and I said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a man and another man or a woman and a woman.
“You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage.
“And to anyone who has reservations, I say this: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.
“So I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”
His speech, which you can read in full here, touched on a wide range of issues of course, from jobs to the economy, social welfare and mobility and much more, but this unexpected affirmation of support for same-sex marriage perhaps caught LGBT rights groups pleasantly off-guard.
Following the Prime Minister’s words LGB campaign group Stonewall issued the following statement:
‘We warmly welcome David Cameron’s commitment,’ said Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive. ‘It’s unthinkable that a Conservative prime minister would have felt able to say this a decade ago. We look forward to the government now implementing this commitment within the lifetime of this parliament, as promised.’
However, the Telegraph has been able to dig up quite a few religious voices that are already promising to fight the government on this:
The Most Rev Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark and one of the most senior Roman Catholics in the country, said the state must not attempt to redefine marriage.
“Whilst we welcome the Prime Minister’s support of marriage, family life and especially the care of children, the proposed redefinition of marriage cannot be right,” he said.
“Marriage by its very nature is between a man and a woman and it is the essential foundation of family life. The state should uphold this common understanding of marriage rather than attempting to change its meaning.”
Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, said Prime Minister’s attempt to redefine marriage would have “catastrophic consequences” for society. “The complementary union of a man and a woman in marriage is where love, life, stability and the full flourishing of society begins. He ignores this fundamental principle at his peril.”
Unlike in the U.S., all three leaders of the major political parties in the UK have said they support same-sex marriage.
Indeed, while the Conservatives were once opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBT rights as a whole, the party has in recent years attempt to shrug off its past and reform itself as a party of fiscal conservatism and responsibility while cultivating a more progressive social agenda. Indeed David Cameron famously apologized for the Tory-backed Section 28, the ban on positive mention of homosexuality in schools, and in particular apologized for opposing the repeal of the ban in 2003. The apology, made in 2009, saw Cameron condemn the provision as “offensive to gay people.” You can read more on that here.
As previously noted, the consultation on same-sex marriage was unfortunately delayed from its original start date. This likely means that any legislative action will fall near to the next general election. Advocates worry that this means action might be jettisoned so as not to have that battle fresh in the mind of voters.
Action on the change will therefore be a real test of both the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government’s will, and the Prime Minister’s true commitment to equality.
Still, the Prime Minister’s words of support on Wednesday were clear and their worth should not be underestimated.