Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Equal Marriage Debate - the Lib Dems at their best #LDConf

The Liberal Democrats have been on show this week and we have acquitted ourselves well, with thoughtful, genuine, high quality debates on a range of important issues of the day.

So far the highlight for me was the Equal Marriage motion, a subject I feel passionate about. If I'm allowed to marry the person I love, why can't my lesbian and gay friends?

I have to say that the few people speaking against to me hadn't understood the motion. There was never any prospect of any religious organisation being compelled to hold same sex marriage ceremonies, merely giving the right to those (and there are quite a lot) who would be happy to.

During the interventions we had a procession of Quakers all referring to their strong support of equal marriage to the extent, as my old friend from Derby Lucy Care said, that some felt that they should stop performing marriages at all until they were open to everyone.

Another old friend Ed Fordham was characteristically funny and brilliant. He was one of many who slammed Stonewall for their opposition to the motion, saying that even if their figures on pensions were right, the cost was basically £1 for every LGBT person in country and he'd be making that point to Danny Alexander. He joked that his mother's single handed boost to the millinery industry when he did eventually got married would more than wipe that out.

Jenny Barnes explained very movingly the issues affecting transgendered people. How people used to be made to divorce before undergoing treatment but how that block has now moved. You still have to divorce before you can be officially recognised in your new gender. I think that if a couple wants to stay together to maintain their legal union  after going through that process then who on earth is the state to stop them?

One speaker from Camden said that we shouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for equal marriage, outlining situations which we all feel angry about, such as women forced into marriages where they are abused. He basically took the Stonewall line that civil partnerships were enough to be going along with.

For me it was Sara Bedford's speech which she has kindly reproduced in full here which stole the show. She asked us to imagine the outrage if a different form of legal union was on offer for mixed race couples, or for those of different faiths. Dealing with the argument that gay marriage somehow undermines heterosexual marriage, she asked conference to consider whether they would boycott their next local recruitment drive on the basis that more members damages the Liberal Democrats.

My favourite bit was her description of an experience that I have shared with my daughter - the incredulity of a young child at the idea that some people are against letting  people love each other.

I was very proud that Conference voted overwhelmingly in support of equal marriage, including an amendment which allows humanist celebrants to officiate at all marriages in England as they do in Scotland. As we've done on many issues, tuition fees, free personal care, the smoking ban, it was the Scottish Liberal Democrats, courtesy of a motion from the awesome Liberal Youth Scotland with advice from the sidelines from a certain Northern Irish blogger.

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