Nick Herbert hits back at colleagues who have critised plans for gay marriage, calling it a ‘fundamental issue of equality’
A senior Conservative minister has insisted the government is still committed to legislating for gay marriage, and hit back at colleagues who have criticised the idea.
The police and criminal justice minister, Nick Herbert, also criticised the idea that the proposed law was not a priority. “This is about nothing more or less than a fundamental issue of equality,” he said.
Herbert, the first openly gay Conservative parliamentary candidate, was speaking on Thursday following speculation that the prime minister’s decision to give MPs a free vote on gay marriage signalled he was backing down on the idea.
Two senior Tories have also spoken out against the move in recent days: the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said the government should instead focus on “thing that matter”, and the Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Patterson, said he would vote against the bill.
In an interview with London’s Evening Standard newspaper, Herbert said: “Of course dealing with the economy and the deficit and restoring growth is the overriding mission and priority of this government. But since when was equality not a priority?
“Ensuring people are treated equally without fear of discrimination should always be a priority. That’s why I think this proposal matters.”
The MP for Arundel and South Downs said there were more openly gay Tory MPs – 12 – than for all the other parties combined in the House of Commons. Those Conservatives include the foreign office minister, Alan Duncan, the climate change minister, Greg Barker and the party’s vice chairman, Margot James.
After becoming the first Tory chosen to stand for his seat after telling the selection panel he was gay, Herbert was elected in 2005 and entered a civil partnership with his long-term partner Jason Eades in 2009.
“I will forever be grateful to the MPs who had the courage to introduce civil partnerships,” added Herbert. “But I’m getting rather fed up with people metaphorically jabbing a finger into my chest and saying I should put up with a civil partnership. How would they like it if I jabbed a finger into their chests and said they should put up with a civil partnership instead of their marriage?
“In my view it’s not acceptable to say to a group in society: ‘You should put up with something that is a second order institution to something that everybody else is entitled to, because we say so.’ I think this is about nothing more or less than a fundamental issue of equality.”
Herbert also said he believed same-sex marriages would “strengthen the institution of marriage” – something that has traditionally been a rallying point for Conservatives.
He added: “I’m absolutely confident that the House of Commons will vote for this and that we will have gay marriage by the end of this parliament.”