Rob tonight abstained on the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons, saying more work was needed to address genuine and obvious concerns before the final version of the Bill is voted on.
Rob acknowledged that the issue is an extremely difficult and sensitive one for many people, and stressed that he had taken time to read the Bill in detail and read each of the hundreds of letters and emails he has received on the matter. Mr Wilson has also held a number of group and individual meetings in his constituency.
Rob said: “Tonight’s vote is the beginning of the Parliamentary process on proposals to extend marriage to same sex couples, not the end. After reading the Bill carefully and reading the hundreds of letters and emails I have received and meeting groups and individuals on both sides of the argument, I have voted tonight as a Parliamentary abstention from either backing or opposing the Bill.
“Why did I vote in this way? The Government’s Bill is rushed and in my view there are a number of reasonable concerns that need to be dealt with before the Bill is finally voted on at Third Reading. This Bill largely concerns civil marriage, not religious marriages, but the Church and other religious groups could be open to years of legal action if we do not get this right. I have my doubts that the so-called “quadruple lock” is watertight. There are also fears that the legislation may be used against a variety of public sector workers from teachers to hospital chaplains who disagree with same sex marriage as a matter of religious belief. In my opinion, we shouldn’t just wave this through and leave people’s fears unaddressed.
“I also think it is important that this legislation does not have consequences that are actually unequal. The Government has had to change the name of the Bill because its outcomes currently are not equal. For example, matters of consummation and criteria for divorce will be different between heterosexual and homosexual couples as it currently stands. Furthermore, civil partnership will not be open to heterosexual couples.”
“Finally, it is my view that this legislation has proved so controversial that it should have the clear endorsement of the public. I am concerned that this measure was not part of the Conservative Party's manifesto or the Coalition Agreement. It means that the democratic basis for such a major piece of social legislation is regrettably thin and the Government should have done more to seek democratic legitimacy for this measure. None of the political parties are unanimous on this issue. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as Conservatives, voted against the Bill today, even though their parties are largely in favour of proposed changes. The Labour Party in Reading is simply wrong to try to turn a conscience issue into a Party political matter without even reading the bill or consulting with and considering all viewpoints.”
“I recognise that people care deeply about this issue and I fully respect the positions people have taken. I will be paying close attention to the Bill as it moves through Parliament. The key vote will be at Third Reading (which comes after Committee Stage, report Stage and the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords), where I will reassess my position to take account of the amendments and changes that have been made to the Bill, if any. In the meantime I will personally seek to ensure, including through tabling amendments myself if necessary, that as many of the reasonable concerns that have been raised with me are dealt with.
“I can assure my constituents that I am not taking this matter lightly and have done my best to listen to those wishing to express an opinion.”