When my Great Grandmother chained herself to railings in Sussex nearly one hundred years ago, it was to protest at a time when women were not allowed the vote. I wonder if Mrs Marchant, as she was called, thought that she was campaigning to redefine democracy or just to extend it?
I’m pretty certain that she would have thought it most unfair that people, men or women, should be treated differently by the State and that allowing women to vote would extend and enhance democracy not redefine or undermine it.
Nearly everyone, looking back today, cannot understand what all the fuss was about in the last century. The movement to universal suffrage was at the time met with outrage by some sections of society, however it was through people like my great grandmother that we see equality does not destabilise the status quo or bring about moral decline.
On the contrary, these changes follow the ever evolving social landscape and this strengthens the institutions and attitudes of fairness, justice and harmony that we wish to espouse as a modern democracy.
I see many parallels in the Same Sex Marriage debate. Marriage is a great institution and should be available to everyone. Extending marriage to gay couples sends a message about our society and democracy today, much as extending the franchise to women did in the early Twentieth Century.
Surely in 10 or 20 years time marriage will perceived by wider society as an institution that should be open to all without prejudice or intimidation.
That is to say that those not in favour should be outcast or subject to prejudice, but we should be thankful that our democracy allows us to disagree and argue from all sides freely without fear of persecution. But the vote at the Second Reading showed that certain attitudes have less influence on society and in turn on the Government and common law.
With an increasing number of countries adopting similar legislation, we cannot be left behind, by a mist of nostalgia for a world that has long since passed. Those 15 countries that have legalised gay marriage have not declined as some people would have you think. These are countries where love is embraced as a universal principal, which no doctrine or movement can alter or affect. Some of these countries, like Spain, have a large religious community but introduction of gay marriage has not been followed by mass demonstrations or revolution but instead Government and law has simply caught up to societies changing attitudes.
Whilst canvassing in Brighton Kemptown I sometimes meet women who can’t be bothered to vote. I tell them about my Great Grandmother and the foresight of the Members of Parliament in 1918 and 1928 who had the courage to extend democracy to everyone.
Today, as a Member of Parliament elected to serve my constituents and to be a Lawmaker, I shall be joining the vast majority in the Commons and shall be voting for David Cameron’s legislation for Same Sex Marriage. The State treating everyone equally under law, extending the important institution of marriage to all loving couples, whist providing protection for churches who disagree, is the right thing to do.
I strongly support this Bill because I am a Conservative, not in spite of it. I believe in individual freedoms and the right to live one’s life as he or she chooses without negatively impacting on others. This is a central principle of conservatism and one that at times is forgotten in the heat and tough & tumble that is day-to-day politics. This legislation will not change the mutual love of those who are already married just as the male vote and democracy was not undermined by universal suffrage.
I am sure that my Great Grandmother would be proud of me. Who knows? Perhaps a distant descendant of mine, whilst knocking on doors in the future will be able to say that Simon Kirby did the right thing and voted for equality, for extending marriage.
As I cast my vote in the House I will be imagining a future where 2013 is remembered as a year that not only allowed gay couples to marry but strengthened our democracy and the core values that make this country great.
Simon Kirby MP
Member of Parliament for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven.
Parliamentary Private Secretary to Rt Hon Hugh Robertson MP, Minister of State for Sport and Tourism.