A former MP has made a heartfelt apology for voting against same-sex marriage, on the eve of the third anniversary of the first weddings taking place in England and Wales.
Sir John Randall, who represented Uxbridge from 1997 to 2015, issued a statement to BuzzFeed News explaining his decision at the time, and his remorse now for opposing the historic legislation.
“There are not many things that I regret about my time as an MP but almost as soon as I voted against same sex marriage I knew I had made a mistake,” he wrote.
The reason he gave his children for voting against it, Randall said, was that opposite-sex couples could not enter into civil partnerships. He said that because he was a teller (who count the votes in parliament, and whose own are not usually included in the total), it wouldn’t have affected the outcome. But, he added, “That was not courageous."
Randall, who was the Conservative party’s deputy chief whip at the time, said: “I think I was just not ready for this step, conflicted between many of my age group and those of the younger generation whose views I wanted to understand.”
In a withering aside, Randall added that he knew he was “going to be on the wrong side” because those who supported same-sex marriage were “some of the nicest people I came across, something that couldn’t be said about those opposing”.
Randall ended by reflecting that in hindsight he wished he had spoken to a fellow MP before the vote who "said to me that it was something that wouldn’t affect him at all but would give great happiness to many people”. And he concluded: “Three years on I can honestly say I was wrong and I am sorry not to have been able to see it at the time.”
Sir John Randall's apology in full:
There are not many things that I regret about my time as an MP but almost as soon as I voted against same sex marriage I knew I had made a mistake. Of course I recognised that it was going to go pass anyway so my vote was not crucial and I was wavering. I excused myself with my children with the excuse that I would have voted for it had civil partnerships been allowed for heterosexuaI couples and I still think that should be actively considered but in the end as a Government Whip I was a teller and therefore technically didn’t vote one way or the other. That was not courageous.
I think I was just not ready for this step, conflicted between many of my age group and those of the younger generation whose views I wanted to understand. Ultimately I think I knew that I was going to be on the wrong side as those who wanted to me to vote for were some of the nicest people I came across, something that couldn’t be said about those opposing. With hindsight I wish I had spoken to a very good friend and colleague before the vote. He might easily have been expected to oppose the move to same sex marriage but he said to me that it was something that wouldn’t affect him at all but would give great happiness to many people. That is an argument that I find it difficult to find fault with.
So three years on I can honestly say, I was wrong and I am sorry not to have been able to see it at the time.
The apology arose after BuzzFeed News emailed every MP and former MP (apart from those whose email addresses are no longer publicly available) who voted against same-sex marriage to ask how, three years since the first weddings, they felt now.
The issue proved highly contentious during its passageway through parliament, prompting fierce debates in the House of Commons in early 2013. David Cameron, then prime minister, championed the cause for marriage equality, much to the chagrin of large parts of his party.
At the third and final vote in May 2013, 161 voted against the marriage (same-sex couples) bill compared to 366 who voted in support of it. Conservative MPs voted 133–117 against the bill.
This was despite concerted attempts by the bill’s architects, from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, to quell concerns regarding the potential for same-sex weddings in places of worship. The legislation contained a “quadruple lock” preventing the Church of England from conducting weddings.
MPs across all parties were allowed a free vote. In Scotland same-sex marriage was introduced a few months later, but in Northern Ireland it remains illegal.
Most of the MPs who voted against the bill and were contacted by BuzzFeed News did not respond.
But as well as Randall, two other MPs also said they had changed their mind. Sir Simon Burns – a Tory who served as a minister under Cameron, and a second cousin of David Bowie – revealed this for the first time.
“I no longer oppose same-sex marriage,” he told BuzzFeed News, although when asked to explain his reasons, he declined.
A representative for Andrew Griffiths MP, also a Conservative, forwarded an article he wrote in December 2016 expressing his regret for opposing same-sex marriage, in which he said: “There is one decision that causes me great pain. That was my decision to vote against gay marriage. It is a decision I wish I could change, and one I deeply regret … I was wrong to do so.”
Over the last four years, since the vote, a small number of other MPs, including Nicky Morgan and Caroline Dinenage, have also stated that they have changed their mind.
In response to BuzzFeed News’ request, other MPs who voted against the bill, including Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, and Kwasi Kwateng, another Conservative, replied in ways that were not explicit in either their support or opposition.
Another Conservative, David Davies, responded in a way that suggested he had not changed his personal view on the subject.
“Everyone should accept that a majority of MPs voted for gay marriage and in a democracy that is that,” he wrote. “I am surprised that some gay rights groups seem to want to demand that MPs who voted against the gay marriage act carry out some sort of mass apology and mea culpa even though I think it has been largely accepted.”
Davies added: “At the same time nobody wants to talk about the work done by Trevor Phillips [former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission] which suggested that a large proportion of British Muslims have very negative views about all aspects of gay rights.”
Other MPs restated their opposition to same-sex marriage to BuzzFeed News. Labour’s Stephen Timms, an evangelical Christian, replied: “My thinking remains as I set out in the debate at the time, but those who contacted me then to oppose the bill have not been back in touch about it since.”
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said in reply to BuzzFeed News’ email: “I would still vote the same way... On this issue which I believe is an important moral issue and I am not influenced by public opinion but by my own beliefs which have not changed and were the issue to be brought back to the House of Commons tomorrow I would vote in the same way as I did before.”
Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet, who has been married three times, said: “I hold firmly to the view, which I expressed at the time, that marriage is a union in faith between a man and a woman and that all else is a civil union. That is why I proposed that ALL civil Unions (including Registry Office Weddings and all other unions) should be rolled into one all-embracing Civil Partnership for legal purposes.”
The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act allowed only for civil ceremonies. However, Gale said that as a Christian, for him “a marriage in church between a man and a woman is ‘until death us do part’ which is why, as a re-married divorcee, I married my wife in a Registry Office and not in Church.”
David Nuttall, the Conservative MP for Bury North, replied: “I would still vote the same way today because of my religious beliefs, I voted the way I did because I believe we should not change the definition of marriage i.e. that it was a union between a man and a woman.”
Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, said: “I thought it should have been in the manifesto. It came out of the blue and I thought that was unfair to many of my constituents who felt blindsided by it. I never had a fundamental objection but I thought it was done in the wrong way and pushed through too quickly.”
And Labour’s Roger Gidsiff, who had previously voted for several pieces of LGBT equality legislation, wrote: “I remain concerned that there is not ‘equality’ and whereas gay people can opt to have either a civil partnership ceremony or a gay marriage heterosexual couples are not allowed the option of a civil partnership.”
The legal fight for heterosexual civil partnerships failed in the Court of Appeal last month.
The other Labour politician to respond was Steve Pound, MP for Ealing North, who also supported a slew of pro-LGBT measures in Parliament before opposing same-sex marriage – a voting record for which, he told BuzzFeed News, he received “considerable levels of abuse locally”. Much of the abuse, he said, was “frankly, deeply troubling and concentrated on certain acts anent to lovemaking that seemed to me to dwell on the subject in obsessive levels of detail and indicate an element of denial".
But the MP, who is a Catholic, explained his reasons for not backing same-sex marriage: “I was constrained both by the assurance of many colleagues at the time of the civil partnership legislation that there would be no more beyond this to marriage, and by the comments of many gay friends who both felt that there were far more important issues affecting the gay and transgender communities than the issue of religious ceremonies.”
Pound added, “I wonder what actual difference the Act has made...” and described it as “symbolic legislation”. While, he said, “there is a good case to be made for a symbolic gesture of solidarity … it detracts from the really serious issues that still prevail in terms of immigration law, homophobic bullying and the global anti-gay prejudice which is often expressed murderously.”