“British Conservatives lead charge for gay marriage” read the headline in the Washington Post this week.
Growing up in England, never in my wildest fantasies could I have imagined seeing this headline.
Gay couples in Britain won the right to civil partnerships in 2004, which granted them nearly the same legal status as married heterosexual couples while avoiding the use of the word “marriage.”
But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition have launched a historic drive to grant gay men and lesbians the option of also entering into civil marriages. This has touched off a fierce uproar in largely progressive Britain: the Conservative party is coming under heavy fire in particular from traditional allies in the British clergy.
Cornerstone Of Cameron’s Bid To Define A “Modern Conservative”
The proposal was put forward earlier in March despite the lack of a strong clamor for marriage within Britain’s gay community, but it is emerging as the cornerstone of a bid by the 45-year-old prime minister to redefine what it means to be a modern Conservative.
From The Washington Post:
“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” Cameron said in a recent landmark speech on the issue. “I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”
There are at least 12 openly gay members of Parliament from the Conservative Party, more than all other British political parties combined. A majority of those lawmakers were ushered into office with Cameron in 2010. Education Minister Michael Gove, a Conservative, has launched a campaign with the gay rights group Stonewall to combat homophobia in British schools. Cameron has hosted a summit on homophobia in professional soccer and officially apologized for Thatcher-era anti-gay policies, calling the party’s previous stance “a mistake.”
What prompted the shift? “We lost three elections, in 1997, 2001 and 2005,” said Margot James, former vice chairman of the Conservative Party and an openly gay member of Parliament.
Are Republicans In The U.S. Also Changing Their Minds About Gay Marriage?
According to POLITICO, Republicans in the U.S. have also come nearly full circle on same-sex politics. While legislation against gay marriage used to be front-and-center for rank-and-file Republicans, it is now virtually a dead issue in Congress.
Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told POLITICO.
Clearly, it’s not that the GOP has suddenly become the party of progressiveness, but there has been an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the U.S. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted, and there are also more gay public figures, including politicians, making it more likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers.
Even Republican Congressman Allen West Agrees
“I personally have deep convictions about my children having a financially stable country that they can live in,” Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said in an interview. “I want my daughters to have the opportunities that I had, and that’s what concerns me. That’s what keeps me up awake at night, not worrying about who’s sleeping with who.”
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a 32-year veteran of Congress, never a man of many words, simply said, “I don’t hear it discussed much.”
Even die-hard social conservatives like Texas Republican Louie Gohmert aren’t digging in.
“That’s not something we’re focused on now,” Gohmert said.
Social issues haven’t exactly escaped Republican furor, as the party has worked furiously to wage its war on women by seeking to ensure the federal government doesn’t spend money on Planned Parenthood, and by debating endlessly the contraception mandate.
But apparently on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s acceptable among some conservatives to believe in the right to same-sex unions.
And that’s a good thing.
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