11:02 Wednesday 06 February 2013

Local MPs vote against equality for gay couples

Written byEleanor Patmore

A HISTORIC move towards full equality for gay people has been opposed by MPs in the Observer patch.

Uttlesford MP Sir Alan Haselhurst, North East Herts MP Oliver Heald, who represents residents in Little Hadham, and Robert Halfon MP, whose constituency includes Sheering, all voted against same-sex marriage in yesterday’s (Tuesday, February 5) key Commons vote.

Bishop’s Stortford’s Mark Prisk was among the 35 MPs who did not vote.

“Whilst personally I have no objection to the same-sex civil ceremonies, I have always been concerned that freedom of religious conscience must also be protected,” he said.

“Despite ministerial assurances in the debate and beforehand, I remain concerned that the chances of legal challenge remain high. This would be divisive, particularly for the Church of England and would put unfair pressure on individual priests and their congregations.”

Both Sir Alan and Mr Heald said they voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which was passed by 400 votes to 175, to reflect the views of their constituents.

The two Tories were among 136 of their fellow party members who voted against.

Sir Alan said he had received messages of support for the bill from 15 constituents but about 10 times that amount against it.

“I just think that this is a step ahead of its time,” he said. “Civil partnerships were introduced and that was a major move in dealing with equality issues, but this is a further step which is causing such a reaction.”

MPs were given a free vote on the bill, meaning they were not ordered to vote a particular way by party whips.

Having received Parliamentary support, the legislation will now receive more detailed scrutiny. If it becomes law, the bill will enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies.

Churches in the Observer patch – including St Therese of Lisieux Roman Catholic Church in Stansted - have reportedly handed out cards encouraging parishioners to contact their MP as they fear they will be forced to marry gay couples.

However, Cllr Howard Rolfe, president of the Saffron Walden Conservative Association, said it was a “natural development for society”.

“I recently saw the film Lincoln and we look back at objectors to abolition (of slavery) with incredulity – in time we will do the same with gay marriage,” he said. “This is a generation thing, most people under 50 do not understand what the fuss is all about.”

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