Tory MPs say they support civil partnerships - but did they vote for them?

Conservative MPs use the existence of civil partnerships as an argument against gay marriage but a significant number voted against them in 2004.

One of the arguments commonly deployed by opponents of equal marriage is that the existence of civil partnerships for same-sex couples means its introduction is unnecessary. Conservative MP Edward Leigh, for instance, has argued: "Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" Former Tory defence minister Gerald Howarth has commented: "some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage", while Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is expected to vote against equal marriage today, has said that the government is "rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so".

But what none of these three will tell you is that they all voted against civil partnerships when Labour introduced them in 2004. MPs are, of course, free to change their minds and we should praise them when they do. But it's hard not to see their new-found support for civil partnerships as a cynical attempt to prevent the equalisation of marriage. Gay couples might already have a means of formalising their relationships but they wouldn't if Paterson, Leigh and Howarth had had their way in 2004. So, for the record, here are the 38 Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships, including two serving cabinet ministers (Paterson and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin) and the two Labour MPs who did. Seventeen have since resigned or lost their seats.

Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships

David Amess (Southend West)

James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire)

Paul Beresford (Mole Valley)

Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire. Stood down in 2010)

Quentin Davis (Grantham and Stamford. Defected to Labour in 2007 and stood down in 2010)

Adrian Flook (Taunton. Stood down in 2010)

Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Roger Gale (North Thanet)

John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal. Stood down in 2010)

Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath. Stood down in 2005)

John Hayes (Current energy minister and MP for South Holland the Deepings)

Mark Hoban (Current employment minister and MP for Fareham)

Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Brian Mawhinney (North West Cambridgeshire. Stood down in 2005)

Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Patrick McLoughlin (Current Transport Secretary and MP for Derbyshire Dales)

Owen Paterson (Current Environment Secretary and MP for North Shropshire)

Andrew Robathan (Current armed forces minister and MP for South Leicestershire)

Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire. Stood down in 2010)

Bob Spink (Castle Point. Defected to UKIP in 2008 and lost his seat in 2010)

Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)

John Taylor (Solihull. Lost his seat in 2005)

Michael Trend (Windsor. Stood down in 2005)

Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne. Lost his seat in 2010)

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald. Stood down in 2010)

John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood. Stood down in 2005)

David Wilshire (Spelthorne. Stood down in 2010)

Ann Winterton (Congleton. Stood down in 2010)

Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield. Stood down in 2010)

Labour MPs who voted against civil partnerships

Denzil Davies (Llanelli. Stood down in 2005)

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who opposes gay marriage, voted against civil partnerships in 2004. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Power-sharing and devolved rule are under threat. What's going on? Ciara Dunne explains. 

The UUP will formalise their decision to withdraw from the Northern Ireland executive on Saturday. The DUP then announced that it may consider voting to remove Sinn Fein from the executive effectively ending or at least suspending devolution. This is due to a statement by PSNI chief constable George Hamilton stating that former IRA member Kevin McGuigan may have been murdered by people connected to the Provisional IRA (PIRA). However Hamilton also stressed that there was no evidence to prove that the murder occurred due to PIRA orders and there are claims that it was a personal vendett.

The UUP declaring that they will withdraw from Westminster is not particularly destructive. They only have one minister and their vote share has been steadily declining since they signed the Good Friday Agreement to the benefit of the DUP. By acting so dramatically, they run the risk of this seeming like the death rattle of a party trying to remain relevant in a world so different from its heyday rather than a principled stand to protect the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

Nesbitt voiced disgust that the IRA was still in existence. However the IRA is not one group and many of its splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and Real IRA (RIRA) didn’t sign up to the Good Friday Agreement and have been active since it. They were not the only paramilitary groups that did not sign up, fragments of extremism have existed since the PIRA decommissioned and it seems likely that they incorporated those who had been PIRA members who were disillusioned by the agreement. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach and Good Friday Agreement negotiator, explained while the PIRA had to decommission as part of the agreement, for various reasons it was allowed to exist in a non-armed state. News of its existence shouldn’t come as a shock to the only major unionist party that engaged in Good Friday Agreement negotiations. If the PIRA were proved to be armed and active then this response would be understandable but that is not the case.

What this stand does however give the UUP is a unique selling point compared to their rivals the DUP and it can somewhat tackle the perception some have that the UUP betrayed the unionist community when it agreed to work with Sinn Féin in government.

The DUP has been less drastic. Although they have stated that they would consider pulling out of government, they have described it as temporary suspension of government rather than a total breakdown of trust. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, said that if they are to continue to power share with Sinn Féin, they must ensure the PIRA issue dealt with ‘in terms that gives everyone the reassurance that this isn’t going to happen again’. This is a reasonable request and something Sinn Féin must do. They should be unwavering in their condemnation of any paramilitary organisations. However so far they haven’t done otherwise, several senior figures have denied that the PIRA have rearmed. Pearse Doherty, a prominent Sinn Féin TD, insisted that when it came to the IRA “the war is over, they’re not coming back”.

The best way to tackle paramilitaries is to tackle the reasons people joined them. This can be done not by threatening to withdraw from the government but standing together against sectarianism. Parties must ensure that there is a functioning government that works for the good of everyone and gives people a genuine stake in society. It is important that representatives of both communities condemn paramilitaries, in actions as well as words. All parties will soon have the opportunity to move away from old associations, as the old guard age and move aside and the younger members who are untainted by such associations, take charge of the party.

However, it is vital that parties take a considered stance in anything controversial for this to work. In this case, it is not yet certain whether the connections are historical or current. Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has stated she has no reason to believe that the PIRA are active in the military sense. Bertie Ahern pointed out that it is possible that ‘these atrocities are being done [by those] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?’ Political posturing could have terrible consequences for the Good Friday Agreement, especially if results in a party with a large electoral mandate being removed from government when there is no proof it has broken the agreement.

If the UUP and the DUP are truly concerned, a more constructive reaction is to push for the reintroduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). The IMC monitored paramilitary activity from 2004 to 2011 and its final report stated that ‘transition from conflict is a long slow process’. This latest incident shows this is true and it is likely that the IMC was disbanded too soon. Reconvening the IMC would offer a way to monitor paramilitary activity and to find patterns and evidence rather than allowing a single incident to destroy progress. If reconvened however it should address the issues that resulted in Sinn Féin’s criticism of the body. A more balanced panel, one agreed by all parties, would address this, the previous one was described as three spooks and a lord, but would still add value to the peace process.

If political parties pull out of the power sharing agreement over an incident that the police have not yet connecting to a sophisticated paramilitary organisation with political connections, they are handing extremism a victory while taking democratic choice away from the people of Northern Ireland. The majority of people in Northern Ireland have been clear, both in referendum and in their actions, they want peace and stability. If the parties of Northern Ireland don’t fight to protect this then they are betraying everyone who believed in the Good Friday Agreement and reconciliation.