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Labour Moves To Save England’s Equal Marriage Bill

Marriage Equality Symbol

Marriage Equality Symbol

It is beginning to look like the decision to push for same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom could spell the doom of the ruling coalition lead by the Conservatives, or Tories. The Tories are joined by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition with the Labour Party being the Minority Party.

At issue is an amendment written by Tim Loughton, former Tory Children’s Minister. His amendment would place language into the bill extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has stated that the Lib Dems would oppose the amendment. The Labour Party has offered up an amendment that would start consultations on expanding civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples while passing the bill as it currently stands.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper stated that Labour would withdraw support for the amendment.

Labour’s leadership has moved to save the marriage equality bill by offering up an amendment that would extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. This has been a sticking point that threatened to derail the bill as a whole. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper stated that Labourt would withdraw support from an amendment offered by Tory opponents of same-sex marriage and offer up this amendment of their own.

Labour had supported the amendment, crafted by former Tory children’s minister Tim Loughton, but Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has opposed the amendment, which could derail the bill.

Cooper stated on Radio 4 that
“We would urge the government, we would urge the Liberal Democrats, we would urge backbenchers of all parties to support this [Labour] amendment to allow the bill to pass without the Tim Loughton amendment for the time being but also allowing an immediate consultation to start on the opposite-sex civil partnerships. On that basis we would recommend to people not to support the Tim Loughton amendment.”

Cooper said she was trying to save the bill:

“It would allow the bill to keep making progress and to prevent either the government or some of the Tory backbenchers using this as an excuse to wreck the bill or delay the bill. We don’t want anybody to use this as an excuse to wreck the bill, including the government.

“We want to make sure the government doesn’t use this [the Loughton] amendment as an excuse to delay or wreck the bill because we know they have become very nervous about the infighting on the Tory benches. We know David Cameron’s leadership is too weak to be able to push this through and to be able to get support on his own benches. We think that is a serious problem. But also we don’t want to see gay couples who are desperate to set the date and get married find themselves at the mercy of this Tory infighting and this row which is not rational any more.”

Between Labour’s intervention and a warning by the government that extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples would cost an additional £4 billion a year and would delay the bill itself until after the 2015 election. It is now likely that the amendment will struggle when it comes up for a vote. Cooper stated “What we have put forward is a proposal to have an immediate consultation on opposite-sex civil partnerships. We think you could start that straight away. You don’t even need to wait for the bill to go through.”

Downing Street is still weighing what to say in response to Labour’s move. The Tories have been unsure how to handle the amendment, and have called for a review of civil partnerships five years after the equal marriage law goes into effect, but this was rejected by Labour. Cooper stated “[Our amendment] would allow us to challenge some of the government’s facts and figures which we do think are not very credible. I don’t see why it would need to cost £4bn. That feels like a figure that has been plucked out of thin air.”

The vote is expected to be an open one with the leadership of the parties not instructing their members how to vote.

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