Lib Dem diary: Religion is always a sticky issue

Every once in a while, normally when I say something like the 50p tax rate is illiberal, people ask me why I am a Lib Dem and not a Conservative. Even more frequently, something happens that answers the question for me. The debate on equal marriage last week was a perfect illustration.

Reading Sir Gerald Howarth's "aggressive homosexuals' comment, pointedly said in response to Margot James (one of only two lesbian MPs), it's hard not to feel offended and angry.

He seems to have created in his mind a vast homosexual conspiracy, whereby marriage is little more than the thin end of the wedge, and cites the "chilling effect' of equality.
James' retort to that was quite wonderful: "The notion of a "chilling effect' is new to me, but I recall in the 1980s, and even the 1990s, what I would describe as a freezing effect on the lives of gay people and other minorities. At that time, the majority were at liberty to discriminate against us in employment, and in practically every other walk of life."

Having seen a large anti equal marriage protest outside parliament last week, I must confess to being unaware of such a stifling of anti equality views.

That's not to say my own party fully had its own house in order.

Both deputy leader Simon Hughes and party president Tim Farron abstained on the third reading vote, and many members feel let down and even offended by the approach taken by these two senior and respected party figures.

The decision was though particularly galling in the case of Simon, when the party supported him in his own struggles with his sexuality.

Simon has tried to explain his decision by blogging on his reasons on Lib Dem Voice, but frankly he use a lot of words to say very little. Ultimately for him and Tim it comes to a conflict of their religious and liberal values.

Religion is always a sticky issue in the Lib Dems, with many having little time for it. Having spoken to religious people in the party, I do know that sometimes they feel uncomfortable or daft for their own faith, which is just as wrong as gay people being made to feel uncomfortable for their sexuality.

LGBT equality is a core one for many Lib Dem members, though. For some, like me, the pursuit of LGBT rights is a key reason for continuing membership. There are a couple of MPs in tight seats that voted ‘no' who will find it hard to rally troops come 2015.

Ultimately, though, for Liberal Democrats opposed to equal marriage the decision is a personal one. I suspect that there will be conversations, hugs, even some tears, between those on different sides of the argument. Then in most cases, there will be a return to friendship and respect.

For the continually shambolic Conservatives, the equal marriage debate has widened an already huge rift at the core of the party.