Here, to begin with, is an Evening Standard story, filed by Craig Woodhouse, its political reporter, on Wednesday:
Abortion vote MP Nadine denies being a fundamentalist
A Tory MP pushing for changes to abortion counselling services today denied she was a “religious fundamentalist”.
Nadine Dorries told MPs she had received death threats for seeking to stop abortion providers such as Marie Stopes offering advice. She wants independent counselling.
She denied that her amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill is evidence of a growing Christian influence in the Tory party.
“Like 73 per cent of the country I am Church of England, I do have Christian beliefs, but I am not sure when that became a crime,” Ms Dorries said. “I am pro-choice.”
Well, Mrs Dorries’s (and Frank Field’s) amendment – as we now know – was roundly defeated: but only a week ago it looked as though it was going to be voted through with general support. According to some polls, 92 per cent of MPs said they supported it. The Government at first supported it too: then suddenly, mysteriously, not only did it withdraw support but even brought pressure on its own MPs to vote against it, even though this was supposed be a free vote.
Well, at least that answers one question: the suggestion that there is “a growing Christian influence in the Tory party” has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, except (a very important exception, admittedly) in the policy area which comes under the benign influence of Iain Duncan Smith, whose deep and sincere concern for social justice, undoubtedly fired by his Catholic beliefs, is generally accepted on all sides of the House of Commons. But there are certainly dark places within the Tory party in which influences that are positively anti-Christian come into play (we can’t, I think, entirely explain the Government’s volte face on the Dorries amendment by the usual excuse, that this was yet another Lib-Dem inspired last minute U-turn).
“I do have Christian beliefs,” said Mrs Dorries during the debate, “but I am not sure when that became a crime.” Well, I have news for her: there is at least one of her Tory colleagues whose mind is moving in that general direction, certainly over one question: whether or not churches should have the right to refuse to participate in or to allow on their premises the performance of civil partnerships between homosexual persons: I speak of the MP for Hove, one Mike Weatherley, who, according to Pink News, under the headline “Tory MP calls for churches to be banned from holding marriages if they refuse gay couples”, has written to the Prime Minister to demand that the Government go a lot further even than that headline suggests. Here is his letter:
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP – Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
21st August 2011
RE: SAME-SEX UNIONS IN THE UK
I write as Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade; a constituency which falls entirely within Brighton & Hove, the city with the most same-sex households in the UK. Like many of my constituents, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the inequality which exists between the unions of same-sex couples and those of opposite-sex couples in this country.
As you are acutely aware, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 resulted in the introduction of Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples in December 2005 … Looking back, I am sure that you would agree that it was nothing less than bizarre that same-sex couples were barred from holding their Civil Partnership ceremonies in religious venues…
Several campaigns are currently calling for, variously, the creation of a right to a Marriage for same-sex couples and the creation of a right to a Civil Partnership for opposite-sex couples… [But] as long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality. Such behaviour is not tolerated in other areas, such as adoption, after all.
I suggest that it makes little difference if unions are called Marriages, Civil Partnerships or some other term (such as simply “Unions”). Until we untangle unions and religion in this country, we will struggle to find a fair arrangement.
I thank you in advance for your views on the specific points within this letter.
MIKE WEATHERLEY MP
You will note that this outrageous demand for the curtailment of religious liberty appeals to an existing precedent, one which at the time attracted Tory support: the effective suppression of Catholic adoption agencies when they declined to facilitate adoption by homosexual couples. Mr Cameron, that is to say, has already decided that “gay rights” trump religious freedom in this country. As the Tory blog ConservativeHome pointed out at the time (January 29 this year), “David Cameron has decided to put gay rights ahead of religious freedom. This is a deeply disappointing retreat from religious liberty and a hammer blow to his appeal to the churches to accept Government money in return for delivering more social action. Cameron’s message is basically: ‘Come and accept taxpayers’ money for your community work but be warned that we’ll be asking for a few changes to your biblical beliefs.’ ”
ConservativeHome pointed out that “by 57 per cent to 30 per cent [Tory voters] favour an exemption for Catholic charities”: but that cut no ice with David Cameron.
So, watch this space. You may think that the Prime Minister will have nothing to do with the outrageous demands of Mike Weatherly MP, who believes that “it makes little difference if unions are called Marriages, Civil Partnerships or some other term” and that “Until we untangle unions and religion in this country, we will struggle to find a fair arrangement”, and who wants the Prime Minister to insist that churches be obliged by law to accept that gay ceremonies be performed in church buildings. As Weatherly cleverly points out, Mr Cameron has already sold the pass, at gay insistence, over religious freedom. There’s absolutely nothing to stop him doing it again.