Same sex marriage plans have been voted through by MPs following a lengthy House of Commons debate. TIM RIDGWAY, BILL GARDNER and TOM HARPER report on what this means for those living and working in Sussex.
Brighton and Hove is set to become the gay marriage capital of Europe after Tuesday, February 5’s landmark ruling, city leaders said.
The vote to legalise same-sex marriage was welcomed by LGBT groups, church leaders and politicians yesterday (February 6).
As well as making thousands of couples happy, civil partnership ceremonies have brought millions of pounds to the city’s economy since they were legalised in 2005.
Nearly 2,500 ceremonies have taken place - only the London Borough of Westminster has conducted more.
Jason Kitcat, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said the rule change was “fantastic for the profile of the city”.
He said: “We could become the gay marriage capital of Europe, not just the UK.
“I hope we will be the top city because people come here to have a great time.
“Ultimately it’s about love and breaking down another barrier to equality.”
Linda Holm, Brighton and Hove City Council’s registration manager, said the local authority would be drawing up plans to deal with a possible surge in marriages in the next 18 months.
She said: “Brighton and Hove is known internationally as very liberal and for embracing same sex couples.
“We have already benefited from couples coming not only from Britain but from all over the world.
“It’s really positive to the city and to the city’s economy with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds of business, spent here.”
Geoffrey Bowden, the council’s economic development and culture committee chairman, said: “This is about equality not economy.
“If there’s a boost to Brighton and Hove as a result then great but the fundamental thing issue is about equal treatment towards people’s sexual orientation.
“I had my own civil partnership in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and I’m very pleased I did.”
Keith Sharpe, of Changing Attitude Sussex, which campaigns for equality in the Church of England, said: “I think it is a very good development for gay people.
“It is a good thing that the victory was as great as it was.
“We know that the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews will offer the religious ceremonies.
“I hope that the Church of England will have a debate and consider the idea of allowing individual churches to decide whether they want to hold the ceremonies, as they do with deciding whether to re-marry divorcees.”
Terry Burn, resident warden at Brighton Quaker Meeting House, said: “The Quakers are very supportive of gay marriage in general and in our meeting house.
“We welcome gay weddings here at the meeting house, but they have got to be Quakers.”
For Paul Elgood the vote on same sex marriage marked an important step on the road to equality.
The Hove-based charity worker and equality activist said: “Ten years ago we will look back at this and wonder what all the fuss was about. This is about natural progression and a question of fairness.”
Last year, Mr Elgood entered into a civil partnership with his interior designer partner Lee Shingles.
Six months on, he admits while the decision by MPs on Tuesday was important, it did not alter things for himself.
Mr Elgood, 40, said: “For us, the way we did it was perfect.
Happy in partnership
“It was completely special and we did it exactly as we wanted to do it so I do not think we will convert it into a wedding.
“But that is not to say that others will have different views.
“This is all about natural progression and I think there are enough safeguards in the bill in terms of religious premises.
“People should be comfortable with it.”
The vote of 400 MPs in favour to 175 against took place in the House of Commons after a lengthy six-hour debate.
MPs were given a free vote meaning they were not ordered to vote a particular way by party whips.
Their decision to back the bill at second reading signifies that they approve of it in principle. The legislation will now receive more detailed parliamentary scrutiny.
The bill will legalise gay marriage and enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales.
However, after opposition by Church of England and others, the religious institution must formally consent beforehand.
The bill will also allow couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage.
For some it marks the end of long path of campaigning.
Brighton-based broadcaster and campaigner Simon Fanshawe said: “It was a fantastic moment.
“People keep on saying it’s about equality, which of course it is, but for me it is also about citizenship.
“Marriage is a fundamental building block in society and there’s a huge section of society that was excluded from that and now they’re not.
“Now people can make a choice about marriage.”
Mr Fanshawe added: “My partner and I are planning a civil partnership this summer. Whether this changes things I do not know. I will have to ask him.”
In Sussex, 12 of 16 MPs supported the plans with only Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) and Henry Smith (Crawley) voting against.
Norman Baker was one of two MPs in Sussex not to vote. A spokesman for his office said he was away on ministerial duties in France.
Speaking after the debate, Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby said he was “proud” to support it.
He said: “The vote marks an important milestone in the evolution of the institution of marriage and the advance of equality in the UK. “The legislation strikes the right balance between equality for same sex couples and the rights of people of faith.”
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said: “While the Conservative catfight over the vote will fade into insignificance, the momentous occasion on which MPs were given the chance to stand up for equality in marriage will be remembered for many years to come.”
HOW OUR MPS VOTED
Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion – Green) - FOR
Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown - Con) - FOR
Mike Weatherley (Hove - Con) - FOR
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham – (Con) - AGAINST
Peter Bottomley (Worthing West – Con) - FOR
Norman Baker (Lewes – Lib Dem) – DID NOT VOTE
Charles Hendry (Wealden - Con) - FOR
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne – Lib Dem) - FOR
Francis Maude (Horsham – Con) - FOR
Henry Smith (Crawley – Con) - AGAINST
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex – Con) - FOR
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs – Con) - FOR
Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – Con) - FOR
Andrew Tyrie (Chichester – Con) – DID NOT VOTE
Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye – Con) - FOR
Greg Barker (Bexhill and Battle – Con) - FOR
What MPs said
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) “If this Bill passes through Parliament and becomes law, it will not be the end of the world as we know it; a new Sodom and Gomorrah will not take hold of our island.
“Similarly, if it does not go through, it will not signal some resurgence of intolerance or inequality.
“No one will lose any rights to equal treatment and respect under the law and in the eyes of society.
“The real problem is not a lack of equality under the law but people’s perceptions of a lack of equality for those with different sexual persuasions.”
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) “Are the marriages of millions of straight people about to be threatened because a few thousand gay people are permitted to join?
“Millions will be watching us today—not just gay people, but those who want to live in a society where people are treated equally and accepted for who they are.
“They will hear our words and remember our votes. I hope that, once again, this House will do the right thing.”
Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) “Essentially, we are asking whether we can remove the barriers that stop same-sex couples enjoying the commitment—the ‘at one’ meaning—of marriage. That is what the Bill comes down to. It does not redefine marriage; it just takes away barriers.”
Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) “I very much welcome the Bill, but does the Minister understand the disappointment of those who believe that the Church of England is not being given the choice accorded to other faiths to marry same-sex couples if they so choose and that far from being forced to marry same-sex couples, the Church of England is being forced not to marry them, even if some elements would like to do so?”
Debbie Gankerseer, 44, Hurstpierpoint. “I was surprised that they went for it because of all the negative spin, but I’m very pleased about it.”
Kelly Fricker, 34, Goodwood Way, Moulsecoomb, Brighton. “I think it’s up to them and I don’t think it should matter. I’m not really surprised.”
Graham Pettit, 61, Denton Drive, Brighton. “Each to their own. I’m not surprised by the news.”
Helen Minshull, 39, Burgess Hill. “I think it is long overdue. I have got gay friends and if you can adopt children, you should be able to get married as well. I think it is a really out-dated view that it hasn’t been done before now.”
Bryan Childs, 57, Hollingbury, Brighton “I have gay friends and I’m bisexual, so I agree with the decision.”
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