By Hamed Chapman and Ahmed J Versi
A majority of Muslim MPs voted for the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons on February 5, with only Conservative MP Rehman Chishti of the eight Muslim MPs voting against.
“I voted against the Bill, as I believe it is contrary to my own personal belief as a Muslim, which states that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” Chishti told The Muslim News.
He also said that he took into account that 80 percent of his constituents in Gillingham and Rainham, “who contacted me and others who I spoke to. These were from all faiths and of no faiths (and) were against the re definition of marriage.”
The Bill, which is being fast tracked, was passed by a majority of 225, with the support of five Muslim MPs. Khalid Mahmood and Yasmin Qureshi, who was attending to her sick mother, were not in Parliament and so did not vote. Mahmood told The Muslim News that he would have voted against the Bill, as “I didn’t agree with it as it would compromise religious institutions, especially mosques as they may be taken to the European Court of Human Rights” by those who wish to have same sex marriage. He added that the Bill was “an issue of belief, not of equality. It is trying to legislate belief.”
Chishti was also the only Muslim MP who spoke in the debate, pointing out that his understanding was that not one mosque supported the redefinition of marriage during the consultation period.
In response, Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, argued that the issue “is not about numbers; it is about working together and providing protections to make sure that individuals from whatever faith group can continue to be assured that they can practise according to their faith.”
Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, acknowledged that the Government has “a role to play in recognising what is a legal marriage is” and has been playing this role in the past too. She gave examples of outlawing of polygamous marriages, issues of divorce etc and said that marriage laws “have evolved” through ages.
Grant gave assurance that the Bill is giving “strong protection against those who don’t want to do this,” she told The Muslim News. The “quadruple lock” will ensure that no religious organisation “can be compelled to opt in” and no religious minister “can be forced to perform same sex marriage.” However, only if a governing authority of a religious organisation has agreed to opt in can single sex marriage be conducted in that institution.
She rejected suggestions that those who refused to opt in or conduct single sex marriages will be challenged in UK or European courts. European Convention of Human Rights Article 9 guarantees right to religious freedom. “Case laws shows there has been no obligation on any member state to provide same sex marriage,” she said.
Grant allayed the fears of those who believe they may be taken to the European court to defend their refusal to provide same sex marriage. “If an action was brought through the European courts, it would be the British Government which would defend the action robustly on basis of its domestic legislation and Article 9.”
Teachers will be entitled to express their own opinions on same sex marriage and “not expected to promote same sex marriage,” Grant said.
Although it was a free vote, all of Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet voted for the Bill, including Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan. Likewise, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Sajid Javid, voted in favour, although this was not the case of all of David Cameron’s Cabinet.
Khan argued that there was a “lot of misinformation” about the Bill. “This has nothing to do with religious marriage. Marriage is not being redefined. Religious marriage will continue to be a matter for religious organisations, and not for the state, to define,” he told The Muslim News.
“Freedom of religion is extremely important and it is important that faith groups like Islam and other religions should be protected. Freedom of religion is therefore rightly written onto the face of the legislation, meaning that no Mosque, Church or other faith group will be obliged to hold same sex marriage ceremonies. There is a quadruple lock built into the face of the Bill to protect religious freedom.”
His colleague similarly argued that the Bill legislation concerned only “civil marriage as recognised by the state and is designed to allow legal equality.”
“It does not affect religious laws, scripture, teaching and tradition. As a person of strong religious conviction and faith, and representing a constituency where people of many different faiths live and work, it was important to me to ensure protection of religious freedoms,” Shabana Mahmood told The Muslim News.
Other Muslim MPs to support the Bill, included Rushnara Ali and Anas Sarwar, both Labour, were not available to comment.
The Bill s now set to be scrutinised line-by-line in the Committee stage by a cross-party group of MPs and then move to the Report stage before receiving a third reading. It will also be passed to the House of Lords for more reports, readings, debates and votes.