Catholic MP’s Back Gay Marriage

It’s now well known that in the USA, Catholic opinion has departed from the lead of the bishops on gay marriage: Catholics in general are more likely than other Christians, and as least as likely as the general population, to support equality, and in many of the states which have legislated for same- sex marriage, Catholic politicians have been prominent in the struggle. Does the same principle apply in the UK?

Gay marriage supporters

Gay marriage supporters, outside parliament

This came to me by email, from my friend and colleague, Martin Pendergast:

This weekend’s Tablet notes that ‘a majority of Catholic MPs voted in favour of allowing same sex marriage …… Out of at least 82 Catholic MPs, 47 – almost 60% voted in favour …… 32 Labour, 12 Conservative, 2 Lib. Dems, 1 SDLP. Sadly, some of those with previously positive LGBT-friendly voting track-records didn’t: Stephen Pound, Paul Goggins, Sarah Teather, of course, indicated obliquely the way she was going to vote in her recent Tablet interview.

This set me digging. A column in the Guardian Politics Live blog on the day of the vote, identified all MP’s and how they voted. Comparing a list of identified Catholic Members of Parliament and the voting records reported in the Guardian, I was able to confirm that 47 voted in favour (names listed below), with 27 against, 7 did not vote or votes were not listed and 2 were no longer members of parliament.

It was to be expected that Labour MP’s Catholic MPs would mostly vote in favour, but it’s the Conservative supporters that I found most interesting. Included in their number, were some that for different reasons, are particularly notable:

Ian Duncan – Smith, as Secretary for Works and Pensions, is probably the  best known of the senior Conservative Party caucus identified as Catholic. In the early run-up to the introduction of the bill, it was widely speculated that he would vote against. He voted in favour.

Damian Collins MP called on the example of St Thomas More , pointing out that while parliament had the authority to pass laws on matters of marriage, it could not force Catholics to agree with them. The Equal Marriage Bill meets that standard – it provides for same – sex marriage, but does not force cimpliance on anybody.

‘I will be supporting the Same Sex Marriage Bill because I believe in a society where people have freedom of religious expression, but also one where outside of religion people are equal in the eyes of the law. But as an MP of Roman Catholic faith, I have been drawn to considering over the last few weeks, what Thomas More would have made of this issue.

Saint Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and a former speaker of the House of Commons is famous for the moral stand he took against his King, even though it cost him his life. It was learning about his example at school which prompted me to choose him as my Confirmation Saint. Thomas More is particularly remembered because he could not in conscience swear an oath recognising the Succession to the Crown Act 1533 which had the effect of annulling one of Henry VIII’s marriages and therefore changing the royal succession. He could not swear the oath because, although he would abide by the Act’s content, he could not in conscience say that he agreed with it. Parliament, he said, had the right to decide matters of marriage, and had the right to require all subjects, including Catholics, to abide by its laws, but it could not have the right to require Catholics in conscience to agree with them. As a result he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and then executed.

The Same Sex Marriage Bill is not seeking to tell the different churches and religions what they should believe, or to restrict them practicing their beliefs as the do now.

Conor Burns, the openly gay MP for Bournemouth West had at one time expressed his doubts about the need for this bill, as he believed the present civil partnership arrangements provided adequately for our needs. But shortly before the vote was taken, he spoke of some particularly unpleasant statements in lobbying emails from constituents opposed to the bill, and indicated that he was likely to vote in favour. As a gay man, he said, he could hardly vote against equality:

He told the Bournemouth Echo “The lobbying that has been undertaken by those against this bill has been some of the most unpleasant spiteful, hateful things that I’ve ever known,” he said.

“Some of my constituents have written in opposing it. I don’t know what sort of relationship they have with their God but he’s not the God of compassion that I recognise. They’ve been hateful.

“They talk about homosexuality being a disease that will lead to destruction of the human race and gays swirling around in a cesspool of their own making.”

He said he did not think there was a clamour for the gay marriage proposal but added: “That said, it’s being presented as bringing greater equality and as a gay man I don’t see how I can vote against something that’s presented as bringing greater equality.”

- Pink News

I would add, that it’s not only as a gay man that one should support equality – but also as a Catholic.

It’s unfortunate that debates around equal marriage are so seen as a tussle between secular, liberal principles of equality, against religious belief. They are not in opposition. The equality argument is a religious one.   When Jesus first spoke in the temple, the text he chose, was about “setting the downtrodden free” – a principle that he demonstrated throughout his ministry. As a South African, educated in Catholic schools, living for over 50 years against a background of the struggle against apartheid, this principle of justice part of what Catholicism and Christianity are all about. St Paul says that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. And nor should we be making distinctions based on gender or affectional orientation.

As Daniel Kawczynski MP wrote in an article in the Shrewsbury Chronicle ( Thursday, February 7, 2013),  entitled  ’Why I voted in support of gay marriage ‘:

” Jesus says: ” Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

I’ve concentrated here on the Tory MP’s voting in favour, but here’s one Catholic Labour MP, who’s gone on the record as saying that he supports Equal Marriage because he’s a Catholic, and not in spite of his faith:

On learning that I am in favour of same-sex marriage, one of my local Catholic priests wrote to me recently saying that he would pray for me. Another local priest expressed his disappointment in me by adding that he had hoped that my Catholic background “would have prompted a more thoughtful response and decision”.

As someone who still regards themselves as a Catholic, whose children are being educated at Catholic school, I have no objection to being prayed for. Indeed I welcome it. We all need praying for. But I thought the suggestion that my support for equal marriage was somehow contradictory to my Catholic upbringing was rather odd.

I don’t go to Mass every week and it’s been a while since I did R.E at school. But I have yet to see anything in the Gospels where Christ voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage. I don’t, for example, recall that after Jesus had turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, Our Lord then went on to tell the guests at the celebration that he would not have been so hospitable had the marriage involved two people of the same gender.

I was always told that Jesus taught us compassion, understanding and to treat others as we wished to be treated ourselves. I am married – so why shouldn’t two gay people similarly be allowed to get married? At weddings, we often quote from St Paul’s famous first letter to the Corinthians where he told us to abide by three things: faith, hope and love, “but the greatest of these is love”. When the Commons votes today, I will be voting in favour of equal marriage because why shouldn’t two people, who love each other and who want to make a long-term commitment to one another, be able to get married, regardless of their sexuality?

- Michael Dugher, Labour MP

(continue reading at Speaker’s Chair)


Here’s the list of identified Catholic MP’s who voted in favour of Equal Marriage:

Conor Burns Con Bournemouth West
Damian Collins Con Folkestone and Hythe
Ian Duncan Smith Con Chingford and W Green
Jane Ellison Con Battersea
Damian Green Con Ashford
Ben Gummer Con Ipswich
Mark Harper Con Forest of Dean
Damian Hinds Con East Hampshire
Daniel Kawczynski Con Shrewsbury and Atcham
Patrick McLoughlin Con Derbyshire Dales
Mark Menzies Con Fylde
Eric Ollerenshaw Con Lancaster and Fleetwood
Charles Walker Con Broxbourne
Christopher White Con Warwick and Leamington
Kevin Brennan Lab Cardiff West
Andy Burnham Lab Leigh
Mary Creagh Lab Wakefield
Jon Cruddas Lab Dagenham
Jim Cunningham Lab Coventry South
Margaret Curran Lab Glasgow East
Simon Danczuk Lab Rochdale
Gloria De Piero Lab Ashfield
Thomas Docherty Lab Dunfernline and W Fyfe
Gemma Doyle Lab West Dunbartonshire
Jack Dromey Lab Birmingham Erdington
Michael Dugher Lab Barnsley E
Paul Farrelly Lab Newcastle under Lyme
Stephen Hepburn Lab Jarrow
Meg Hillier Lab Hackney South and Shoreditch
Huw Irranca – Davies Lab Ogmore
Helen Jones Lab Warringron North
Barbara Keeley Lab Worsley
Siobhan McDonagh Lab Mitcham and Morden
Pat McFadden Lab Wolverhampton South East
Anne McGuire Lab Stirling
Ann McKechin Lab Glasgow North
Catherine McKinnell Lab Newcastle North
Jim Murphy Lab East Renfrewshire
Pamela Nash Lab Airdrie and Shotts
Theresa Pearce Lab Erith and Thamesmead
Bridget Phillipson Lab Houghton and Sunderland South
Chris Ruane Lab Vale of Clwyd
Gerry Sutcliffe Lab Bradford South
Keith Vaz Lab Leicester East
Valerie Vaz Lab Walsall South
Mike Hancock LD Portsmouth South
Mark Durkan SDLP Foyle

(links to, UK)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994)412 pages

Comstock, Gary David: Gay Theology Without Apology

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage  (Seabury Books)

Heyward, Carter:   Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage(Univ of Chicago Press)

Moore, Gareth OP: A Question of Truth : Christianity & Homosexuality(Continuum Books, 2003) 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality(Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival(Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con 

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible



(links to, USA)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994) 412 pages

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage (Seabury Books)

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The man jesus loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (Univ of Chicago Press)

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Vasey, MStrangers and friends: A new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible


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