The MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Nicola Blackwood, has clarified her position on the government’s equal marriage legislation following a letter sent to her by 38 JCR and MCR presidents.
Initially opposed to the proposed legislation, which would enable same-sex couples to get married, the Oxford MP explained to the common room presidents that she had changed her position after the government guaranteed legal protection for religious organisations who do not wish to hold same-sex marriages.
Ms Blackwood said, “I have no principled objection to equal marriage in secular institutions. My initial opposition arose from the fact that there was no plan to protect religious institutions from litigation and my current concerns are whether the ‘Quadruple Lock’ will indeed be effective.”
According to the government, same-sex religious ceremonies will be held on an ‘opt-in’ basis, where couples can only marry according to religious rites on religious premises where the religious body has given its express consent. “No religious organisation will be forced to marry same-sex couples and there will be a ‘quadruple lock’ of protections in the legislation to underpin this,” the government has said.
In a letter to a constituent in July, the Oxford MP had described herself as opposed to the equal marriage legislation, writing, “I intend to vote against the proposals when they come before Parliament. As I currently understand them, the proposed changes will confer no additional legal gains other than those already conferred through civil partnerships.”
She continued, “Secondly, I am concerned that an unintended consequence of the legislation will be the risk of legal challenges, whether to domestic courts or the ECHR, on the basis of human rights law to religious organisations who for different reasons may choose not to marry same-sex couples.”
Explaining her recent change of position, the MP, an alumna of St Anne’s College, said that the letter in which she had opposed the government’s proposals was “drafted before the Government’s recent statement announcing their proposals for Equal marriage and pledged to introduce the so-called ‘Quadruple Lock’ to protect religious institutions and individuals from litigation.”
Based on the opposition expressed in Blackwood’s letter in July, 38 JCR and MCR wrote to the MP urging her to reassess her position.
The letter stated: “We were appalled to hear of your intention to oppose legislation on equal marriage and believe it inadequately represents your constituency.”
It continued, “By restricting the LGBTQ community to civil partnerships, you undermine that group and their relationships. How can lesbian and gay communities hope to be seen as equal if the state condones such fundamental discrimination?”
The common room presidents stressed the importance of the MP’s position on the issue, writing, “As the MP for half of the city in which we study, we believe that your stance on issues of equality is of great importance, whichever side of the line our votes fall on.”
Jane Cahill, JCR President at The Queen’s College and a key force in uniting the other presidents, explained why the letter was sent, saying, “We really wanted to raise awareness of her position, but more importantly, wanted her to change it. Her arguments to support her views were so astoundingly weak that they demanded a response.”
Cahill also wrote her own personal letter: “I wanted her to see that if she were forced to have a civil partnership she wouldn’t put up with it. I was asking her to try and put herself in my shoes. Most presidents wrote to her personally as well,” she said.
Following the MP’s response, Cahill added, “her arguments are still pretty poor, and she hasn’t retracted much of what she said in her letter but it is her vote that matters.”
Tallulah Andrews, MCR President of Somerville College, which lies in Nicola Blackwood’s constituency, said, “Equality is about more than just equality of benefits. Equality is about seeing the common humanity between people regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. As a dual citizen of Canada and the UK, I’m proud Canada has recognised same-sex marriages since 2005, and I hope the UK, with the support of Ms Blackwood, will join us in 2013.”