Dear Prime Minister,
We write to you as a body of long serving activists and volunteers of the Conservative Party with deep concern about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, to be considered by Parliament on 5 February 2013.
You will be aware of the level of controversy and division of opinion that surrounds these proposals in the country at large. However, we write specifically of our concerns about the growing discord within the Conservative Party over this issue.
We feel very strongly that the decision to bring this Bill before Parliament has been made without adequate debate or consultation with either the membership of the Conservative Party or with the country at large. We are of the clear view that there is no mandate for this Bill to be passed in either the 2010 Conservative Manifesto or the 2010 Coalition Agreement and that it is being pushed through Parliament in a manner which a significant proportion of Conservative Party members find extremely distasteful and contrary to the principles of both the Party and the best traditions of our democracy.
The decision to redefine the institution of marriage, without proper consultation and consideration of all consequences, intended and unintended, comes across as questionable and impatient. Moreover, to do so now, when the economy remains in an extremely perilous state, when the future of Britain’s position within the European Union and the integrity of our own Union is in question and when the Party trails 10% behind Labour in the latest polls, is a policy that a very significant number of Conservatives cannot support.
A ComRes poll published this weekend reports that 20% of those who voted Conservative in 2010 agree with the statement “I would have considered voting Conservative at the next election but will definitely not if the Coalition Government legalises same-sex marriage”.
In October 2012 ComRes found that 71% of Conservative Association Chairmen sensed that party members in their constituency opposed proposals to legalise same-sex marriage, just under half (47%) reported that their local association had lost members over the issue and over half (51%) felt that it made the party less attractive to voters. Then in November, the polling company discovered that amongst those who had voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 but wouldn’t do so today (a key target group), those who were ‘less likely to vote Conservative’ as a result of these plans outnumber those ‘more likely to vote Conservative’, three to one.
According to another ComRes poll in February 2012, 70% of British adults agreed that ‘marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.’
To dismiss these strongly held views as those of an extremist minority, or a minority at all, would be wrong, as would the assumption that this is an issue which will swiftly be forgotten and abandoned by those who have made their feelings clear. We feel it would also be wrong to assume that the passage of time will remove opposition to same sex marriage and the advocacy of traditional conservatism. The largest faith groups, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam ,are strongly opposed to same sex marriage in common with most practiced faiths in Britain. Equally, we are sure you will agree that the Conservative Party needs to do much more to attract ethnic minority voters to the Conservative cause. It is predicted that by 2030, 25% of voters will be of ethnic minority background, most of whom oppose same sex marriage.
The status quo reached in legislative terms over gay rights is now fair and equitable. We are, however, concerned that further attempts to legislate on issues relating to homosexual rights represents a skewed assessment of those who are in most need in our country and that, if passed, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will serve neither to enhance homosexual rights further, nor improve the electoral position of the Conservative Party. We are of the opinion that there are a number of alternative compromise solutions including the extension of Civil Partnerships to all citizens, which would prevent the state from infringing on the institution of marriage or dictating to churches who were not adequately consulted.
Long-held religious and personal freedoms and the right to free speech will be adversely affected by the passing of this Bill. You will be aware of the recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that failed to secure ‘religious freedom’ protection to an Islington civil registrar who lost her job after seeking a conscientious exemption from presiding over civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples and a marriage counsellor who was dismissed after expressing a possible conscientious objection to providing same-sex sexual therapy. Because of these past precedents and the power of the ECHR to overrule British courts on matters relating to religious freedom and human rights, we do not feel the proposed “quadruple lock” in the Bill will protect the perceived rights of one minority will not simply be used to overrule the rights of the majority and impinge on values considered sacrosanct to our Party and country.
More time should be afforded to debate an issue of such gravity at Parliamentary Committee level, among the membership of the Conservative Party and with the country at large, and a final decision on the matter should be postponed until after the 2015 general election when the public would have had the chance to vote on a clear manifesto pledge.
As long-standing members of the Conservative Party we want to support the Party to victory, as we have done in every past election, in the belief that Conservative values will lead our nation to ever greater prosperity. Resignations from the Party are beginning to multiply and we fear that, if enacted, this Bill will lead to significant damage to the Conservative Party in the run up to the 2015 election.