Brian Monteith: Messy divorce is on the cards

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I don’t know what David Cameron’s favourite tipple is but I recommend that at the end of today, it being a Friday, he sits down in a comfy chair and has a long slow drink of the hard stuff. Mine would be a strong gin and tonic, but whatever he’s having he’d better make it a large one.

For let’s face it, this has been a disastrous week for the Prime Minister. It’s not been an especially auspicious start to the year, what with poor economic figures for the last quarter of 2012 and the defeat of the boundary redistribution bill. But I have to ask, why did he force the issue on gay marriage?

It was possibly the most ridiculous, unnecessary and provocative piece of social legislation that has only made it more likely that he will lose the next election.

Now, let me say from the start that today’s column is not some Old Tory Sir Bufton Tufton-type rant about those confounded gays having no right to be getting married, how dare they think they can use that word sort of thing. There are some people in the Tory Party – as there are in all parties – who feel that way, but I’m not one of them.

There is a solution to the whole issue of who should be able to get married and it’s very simple, the state should just get out of marriage altogether. You see marriage is and has, as far as I can see, always been a religious concept. From the darkest days of antiquity when people were worshipping many gods and not just one, marriage was a religious rite or blessing.

It did not have to be recognised by the state; if it was good enough for the local priest or witchdoctor or druid it was good enough for that community. But it was called marriage, and sometimes it involved more than one wife – so let’s not get all traditional about it only being for a single man and a woman.

It was only in comparatively recent times that the state became involved and that’s where the root of the problem lies. For, as a democratic state belongs to all of us, it is only right it should treat us all as equals. It is no surprise, then, when homosexual men and women say they too should be able to enjoy the blessing that the state gives marriage and the legal benefits with which it comes.

To resolve this, all the state needs to do is treat equally all combinations of male-female, male-male and female-female civil partnerships before the law and in tax, pension, welfare and heritable rights (at the moment civil partnerships are not open to male-female partners). If anybody wants to call a civil union marriage then that would be up to them – but a true marriage would require a religious blessing and that would then be left up to faiths to offer.

Again, this need not discriminate against anyone, for there are many religions that are keen to solemnise gay weddings. So, like many other countries, we can all have our required contracts equal under the law and we can all get married in one house of God or another (or not at all), thus accepting not just sexual tolerance but religious tolerance too.

That then is what Cameron could and should have offered that would not have offended so many people and more than half of his parliamentary party.

Indeed, I think it is fair to say that the real opposition to him is far greater than is even visible, for although it was ostensibly a “free vote” there will have been many junior and even senior ministers who voted for the bill but do not support it.

His party opponents have a point; in fact they have a number of points. The gay marriage bill was not in the full party manifesto, it was not in the coalition agreement and it was not in the Queen’s speech delivered only a few months ago.

Instead of making his party look modern, he has allowed it to be presented by his opponents as bigoted when many of those that voted against the bill did so on a sincere matter of conscience. And some voted against in reflection of what they felt their constituents wanted. That is their job after all.

It’s not that the issue of gay marriage is vitally important to many people – most probably don’t care enough to vote differently – but when the public sees a divided party it is repelled, and so Cameron has wreaked wholesale damage on his and his colleagues’ electoral fortunes. Which is why there is talk of mutiny in the ranks.

Of course, it makes no difference in Scotland. We set our own laws in these matters. Still, Cameron’s gay marriage bill was not needed. Cameron could have promised to consider the whole issue after the next election. It’s not as if Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg were pressing for it to be brought forward now. So as Cameron talks of gay marriage, so his backbenchers think of suing for divorce.