A number of Muslim MPs voted in parliament last week in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The House of Commons voted in favour of the Bill with the final tally being 400 in favour and 175 against, giving the Bill a large 225 majority.
The Muslim MPs have come in for expected criticism from more traditional quarters. I even received a text message allegedly from one UK-based ‘Shaykh’ saying that the Muslim MPs needed to repent and renew their faith!
Sadiq Khan – the Labour high-flyer who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice – felt it necessary to issue a statement on his website outlining his reasons for voting in favour of gay marriage. Here is the key passage:
“I voted in favour of the legislation because I believe that this is fundamentally an issue of equality. The last Labour Government made a number of important changes to improve equalities legislation, including the introduction of Civil Partnerships in 2004 in face of considerable opposition. Civil partnerships now have widespread support and I believe it is the right time to take the next step.
“I firmly believe in marriage. Marriage is an important statement of love and long term commitment, and has long been the main way that the state recognises and shows support for loving relationships. I believe that couples who love each other and want to make that long-term commitment to each other should be able to have a civil marriage regardless of their gender or their sexuality. Same sex couples should have the same recognition from the state as everyone else.”
Sadiq’s reasoning seems entirely sensible and fair-minded. Sadiq has a distinguished background as a human rights lawyer and I recall that he was one of the Labour MPs back in 2005 that courageously defied the then Prime Minister Tony Blair when he tried to increase the pre-charge detention period for terror suspects from 28 days to 90 days. Sadiq Khan came in for a lot of criticism from Labour whips at the time who told him that his Labour career was effectively over. Thankfully they were very wrong!
So, Sadiq Khan should be really congratulated for defending an important principle: people should not be needlessly discriminated against just because of their religious background or sexual orientation etc.
It is not hugely surprising that the main UK religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, the Muslim Council of Britain etc came out opposed to the Bill. Religious organisations are often rather conservative and do not have a great record when it comes to supporting the right of all human beings to be treated equally under the law. I tried looking for the reasons why the MCB, for example, opposed the Bill and found an announcement on their website which says the following:
“The MCB stands opposed to discrimination in all its forms, including homophobia. Although the government base this bill on grounds of ‘equality’, it does not require us to define different things by the same term. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman and is something that does not need to be redefined.”
I don’t really understand the argument why marriage should not be ‘redefined’. Why should it not be redefined to include same sex couples? Why is it anybody else’s business if two people of the same sex want to get legally married?
The last couple of decades have seen major progress being made in the UK to further equality and safeguard minorities – including faith groups – from discrimination. There is no reason I can see why gay people should not also be treated fairly under the law.
Update: Mail on Sunday – “Death Threats to UK’s Top Muslim MP Who Voted for Gay Marriage”