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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Wirral junior minister among Tory MPs to join revolt over redefinition of marriage

A Catholic government Minister from Wirral was among the Conservative MPs to rebel over David Cameron’s attempts to redefine marriage.

Esther McVey, MP for Wirral West and the Work and Pensions Minister, voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

She was one of 134 Tories to reject the legislation, leaving the Prime Minister depending on the votes of MPs from rival parties to push the Bill through to Committee Stage.

Less than half of Conservative Party MPs – a total of 126 – supported the Bill to redefine marriage to include same sex couples while 35 abstained.

The Bill received the overwhelming support of the Commons, however, and passed by 400 votes to 175, a majority of 225.

The Bill was also opposed by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for Shropshire North, Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton; Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West; Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin; David Rutley, the Conservative MP for Macclesfield, and Paul Goggins (left), the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East and a Catholic.

Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, and Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, both voted in favour of the legislation.

The Catholic Church has campaigned vigorously to defeat the Bill which is also strongly opposed by the Church of England, mainstream Protestant and Jewish denominations and by Muslim and Sikh leaders.

The Catholic bishops have directly warned MPs and peers that the proposals will destabilise marriage, harm the well-being of children, jeopardise religious liberty and undermine the ability of the Church to function effectively in civil society.

But Catholic MPs remained divided on the Bill – which was being treated as a conscience issue by Parliament – with dozens of them voting with the Government.

These included such prominent Catholics as Iain Duncan Smith, Patrick McLoughlin, Keith Vaz, John Cruddas, Andy Burnham and Mark Durkan, as well as Paul Farrelly, Gemma Doyle, Valerie Vaz, Jack Dromey, Ben Gummer, Eric Ollerenshaw, Damian Green, Bridget Phillipson, Catherine McKinnell and Thomas Docherty.

Of at least 25 Catholics opposing the Bill were the Labour MPs Rosie Cooper, Joe Benton, Jim Dobbin and Paul Murphy, the Liberal Democrat MPs Sarah Teather and John Pugh, and Tory MPs Edward Leigh, David Amess, Paul Maynard, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Julian Brazier.

‘Impossible to guarantee protection’

Maria Miller, the Equalities Minister, sought to allay the concerns of Christians by promising Parliament that the Bill would not pose a threat to religious freedom.

“No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views that go against their beliefs,” she said. “No hospital chaplain or worker will have to believe in a new definition of marriage. No religious organisation will have to conduct same-sex weddings.”

She said: “It is about fairness and it’s about giving those who want to get married the opportunity to do so while protecting those who don’t agree with same-sex marriage.”

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Equalities Minister, praised the Bill and boasted that Labour was responsible for extending its provisions to religious organisations.

She said: “Religious organisations shouldn’t be required to hold same-sex marriage but nor, in the spirit of freedom of religion, should they prevent other religious organisations or the state from doing so.”

However, some politicians argued repeatedly that the Government was legally incapable of protecting the rights of people who disagreed with the redefinition of marriage.

Mr Dobbin, the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: “The government cannot possibly guarantee protection for churches or individuals with a traditional view because it cannot control or predict what will happen in the courts.”

Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, said the harassment of Christians was inevitable if the Bill went through.

“We do not have to speculate about what might happen to Christians,” he said. “One of the most peevish and mean-spirited acts of the last Parliament was the sexual orientation regulations of 2007, which forced out of business Catholic adoption agencies that made special efforts to help the most disabled, deserving and vulnerable children.

“Those agencies were put out of business, smashed on the altar of political correctness. Today, we are talking not about fairness and equality, but about a hierarchy of rights—‘Your rights are more important than my rights’.

“Members who vote for the Bill should think carefully about that. They should look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they want to be responsible for a Catholic teaching assistant being hounded from her office as a result of this Bill. That is not fantasy; it can happen.”

‘Marriage more than just a romantic attachment’

Mr Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough and a Catholic, quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church to Commons and told MPs that marriage was “more than just a romantic attachment”.

“Every marriage has procreating potential in that marriage brings together biologically the two elements needed to generate a child,” he said.

“The very reason that marriage is underpinned with laws and customs is that children often result from it. They need protecting from the tendency of adults to want to break their ties and cast off their responsibilities.

“ Marriage exists to keep the parents exclusively committed to each other, because, on average, that is the best and most stable environment for children.”

He continued: “If marriage were solely about the relationship between two people, we would not bother to enshrine it in law, and nor would every culture, society and religion for thousands of years have invested it with so much importance. Marriage is about protecting the future.”

Politicians repeatedly told the debate that they had received huge amounts of letters from the public asking them to oppose the measure.

Bob Blackman said he had counted about 1,000 letters against the Bill and just five asking him to support it and Fiona Bruce said that about 95 per cent of the people who had written to her about the Bill were asking her to oppose it.

After the debate Mr Cameron posted a message on Twitter hailing the vote as “a step forward for our country”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, said the vote represented a “landmark for equality in Britain” while Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said it was a “proud day”.

‘A number of profound problems’

The Most Rev. Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark and the vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also issued a statement.

“The Catholic Church continues to support marriage understood by society for centuries as the significant and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman for their mutual well-being and open to the procreation and education of children,” he said.

“Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman. For these reasons the Church opposes the Government’s Bill to re-define marriage.

“Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one of equality, the Bill actually seeks to re-define marriage and will have consequences for society at large.”

He said that the debate made clear that the Government had not thought through a “number of profound problems” in the Bill.

“It will be extremely important that the many concerns we and others have expressed will be fully and carefully considered during the next stages of the Bill’s passage through Parliament,” Archbishop Smith added.