A great number of constituents have contacted me regarding the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in Parliament this Tuesday, and I have written this blog post so that as many constituents as possible, who might not have seen my previous statements on the issue, are aware of my views on this matter, and how I will be voting.
My views on this matter are clear and unambiguous. My politics has always had equality at its heart, and I firmly believe that people of different races, genders, people with disabilities and different faiths should be treated equally – that extends to people of different sexualities too in my view. I am proud of Labour’s record of working towards equality regardless of sexuality, whether in equalising the age of consent, introducing civil partnerships, reforming adoption rules, or abolishing Section 28. When Labour introduced civil partnerships legislation in 2004 we faced considerable opposition but now civil partnerships have widespread support. Now that I am part of the generation of MPs that will have the chance to support marriage equality in law, I will proudly vote for equal marriage at the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on Tuesday alongside not only Labour but also Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.
I know that many people have sincerely held fears about the introduction of this legislation. Some of this fear is based on misnomers, for instance¬† I can assure those concerned that there is no suggestion in this Bill that religious organisations will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages against their will. Much of the fears include the idea that this legislation is a threat to religious freedom or to freedom of conscience – I agree that religious freedom and freedom of conscience should be protected, but I think this Bill will enhance those freedoms because to have these freedoms for anyone we must have these freedoms for all.
There are a great many faiths, religions and denominations within our area and they bring us great strength, vitality and contribute hugely to our rich community. As the local MP, it is my duty to do all I can to protect the rights of each and every constituent to live in religious freedom as far as is possible. This Bill will enhance that freedom – it will mean that no more will the State be able stop religious organisations like the Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Judaism acting to marry same-sex couples, in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs; and it will mean that we make it clear in Britain that we believe in equality and protect the right for individuals and people of all faiths to decide for themselves how to live their lives and what to believe.
I know that there will be constituents who may not agree with my views on this matter. However, I must do what I think is right. I would urge all those who still have fears about this Bill to support it. The introduction of same-sex marriage will be a great day for equality, and I believe our community should unite behind it. It will mean an enormous amount for all those people living in our community who feel marginalised because the State prevents them from getting married, or who are the victims of greater levels of prejudice than would otherwise be the case because the prevention of same-sex marriage engenders the view that same-sex relationships are somehow less valid than heterosexual relationships. If a couple love each other and want to formalise that commitment through marriage, I would certainly not want, and do not think as politicians we have the right, to stand in their way.
Issues of equality and religion often rub up against each other – this may be such a case but my natural instinct is to pay heed to equality first and foremost. In saying this, I do not suggest those who disagree with me on this issue do not care about equality but I simply seek to explain my approach.
Even if you disagree with my position, I hope this will provide some explanation as to my view.
Thanks to everyone for reading.
ChukaChuka Umunna MP Member of Parliament for Streatham covering Streatham and parts of Clapham, Balham, Tulse Hill and Brixton Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills