AN ULSTER-born gay Conservative MP has come out against David Cameron’s attempt to introduce gay marriage, warning that even assurances from the Prime Minister may not stop churches from being forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies.
In an interview with the News Letter, Conor Burns – a Catholic unionist who was born in north Belfast and is now a rising Tory star – spoke for the first time about an issue which has split the Conservative Party.
Dealing a blow to the already uncertain prospect of gay marriage becoming law, Mr Burns said that he saw no need for a change to the law and that there is “no clamour for this at all within the gay community”.
The MP for Bournemouth West, Branksome East and Alderney said that even the Prime Minister’s pledge that churches would not be forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies could be rendered meaningless by the Human Rights Act.
Mr Burns, who is a personal friend of Lady Thatcher, also said that the former prime minister will never forgive the IRA members who attempted to kill her and said that the hatred of some republicans towards the 87-year-old meant that she will receive close protection until her death.
When asked about gay marriage, Mr Burns said: “I marvel at why we’re bringing this forward; there is no clamour for this at all within the gay community.
“I’m very concerned – and I’m going to need some serious convincing about this – that while the Human Rights Act remains in place we cannot give the guarantees that I would want to see that churches would not ultimately be forced under human rights legislation to conduct such ceremonies.
“I would want, if this bill becomes law, cast iron guarantees that any religious organisation who on religious grounds object to it would not ultimately be compelled to do that.
“And at the moment, given that the Prime Minister came to the House of Commons and said it made him feel physically sick that prisoners would get the vote but there was nothing he could do about it because of that law, that law’s still in place.
“So how can we have those guarantees? Until those guarantees are in place, I have massive reservations.”
Mr Burns said he did not know whether legislation to introduce gay marriage would make it through the Commons to become law, and added: “My own view on it was that it was absolutely wrong that same-sex couples in committed relationships couldn’t name their next of kin, couldn’t pass on their half of the estate to the other without inheritance tax...all of those discriminations that were deeply offensive to a lot of people were dealt with by civil partnerships.”
One of the major arguments used by opponents of gay marriage is that, irrespective of any safeguards for conscientious objectors, it fundamentally redefines marriage. Could he ever be persuaded of that?
“I’m a conservative both with a big C and a small c. Marriage is an institution that is the building block of stable society. All the evidence points to the fact that kids who are brought up by a married couple have higher education attainment rates, lower propensity to commit crime; marriage is a force for good in society and I think you need absolutely compelling reasons to want to redefine what marriage means.
“At the moment I am not convinced that those compelling reasons exist.”