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Monday 4th February 2013 | 11:54
There's a definite softly-softly mood coming from No.10 right now over the gay marriage vote. Not backpedalling, but certainly softpedalling, on why equal marriage is a Good Thing.
No speeches, no eve-of-vote meetings to win round backbenchers, nada. Of course this is a free vote but this is still all rather surprising.
Given that the PM is going to get a kicking from possibly more than 100 of his MPs, will this Bill be all pain and no gain? I know he doesn't want a 'Clause 4 Moment', but if he really believes in this, shouldn't he come out forcefully for it?
Of course, one of biggest fears among Tory backbenchers is that equal rights activists could take their case to the European Court and force teaching of gay marriage in church schools or land the Church of England with a massive lawsuit.
Michael Gove gave a stout defence of the bill yesterday in the Mail on Sunday. But his local Surrey Heath party chairman Geoffrey Vero* was on John Pienaar's 5 Live show last night and suggested the Education Secretary had a different message in private:
“I’ve discussed this matter with Michael Gove on a number of occasions and we are concerned that this legislation has consequences. I think it has consequences for teachers, I think it has consequences for parents and children and although Michael says in the Mail today that he has total confidence in the legislation, well that’s not what he told me only a week ago when I met him in Parliament.
"When we discussed the matter there is no doubt that any legislation we pass in Parliament may well be overturned by the European courts and therefore we don’t have total confidence in that. And also as regards the Church, that although they talk about the quadruple lock, we don’t have total confidence that that is going to stand the test of time.”
Of course, this may just be a case of Gove politely nodding along as his party chairman listed his concerns in a Commons meeting. It may not be Gove actually saying he agrees that there are legal dangers.
But could it be that Mr Vero has caught his MP putting out two different messages for different audiences?
I've asked Gove Central for a response.
*FOOTNOTE: It just happens that many Tory associations are asking members to renew their subs. When asked how much support had been lost in his local association, Vero replied:
“That’s the $64,000 question and that’s the big gamble he’s [the Prime Minister] taking. We know that we’re having resignations locally and I’ve got lots of activists and people emailing me saying ‘Geoffrey, if this bill goes forward, we’re just not going to help support you pushing out leaflets and everything’. There is certainly well over 30 or 40 people, out of about 600…It’s unnecessarily upset a lot of people, regretfully.”
Responding to comments by Geoffrey Vero, a spokesman for Michael Gove said:
“The Secretary of State has always underlined his complete support for equal marriage.
He has made clear in meetings with Geoffrey Vero - and others - that he was entirely confident, on the basis of the advice he has received, that nothing in the legislation on equal marriage alters the protection given to, or the position of, teachers.
Teachers can explain that equal marriage goes against their religious beliefs; in the same way they can explain that homosexuality is against their beliefs. Schools already balance the rights of teachers to express their religious beliefs with the rights of others not to be discriminated against. We trust professionals in schools to treat these issues sensitively.
There is a separate legal question - which applies to all legislation - because of human rights law. Because we are in the ECHR, it is open to any individual to bring a test case around discrimination. This could happen with any piece of legislation. The Secretary of State is very conscious of the impact of this human rights legislation - on all areas where the Commons legislates - and it was this that he discussed with Mr Vero. But legalising equal marriage does not change the position and the ‘quadruple lock’ will be the law of the land.”
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