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Gay marriage: the French connection

by Christopher Booker, Telegraph

The issue provoking the biggest Tory rebellion in decades was also prompting a similar row in the French National Assembly. Why?

The greatest puzzle about the “gay marriage” furore is why this issue suddenly erupted from nowhere to the top of the political agenda. Why has David Cameron been willing, as one commentator put it, to “trash his party” in pushing so hard for something that, before the last election, he refused to endorse or to include in the Tory manifesto? And why, just as it was provoking the biggest Tory rebellion in decades, was it also prompting a similar row in the French National Assembly?

The real story behind this drama goes back to 2010. It has three main players, the Home Secretary Theresa May, our former Lib Dem equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, and that shadowy institution, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, with its controversial adjunct, the European Court of Human Rights.

In March 2010, ministers from the 47 countries represented in the Council of Europe agreed a “Recommendation” on “measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity”. Section IV focused on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing “respect for family life”. It proposed that where national legislation recognised same-sex partnerships, these should be given the same legal status as those between heterosexuals. There was no mention of marriage as yet, except in a proposal that “transgender persons” should be entitled to “marry a person of the sex opposite to their reassigned sex”.

Four days before the 2010 general election, the Tory party issued a pamphlet, signed by Theresa May, in which a section on “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] issues” promised that the party would “consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage”. But this was not in the manifesto, nor, after the election, in the Coalition Agreement.

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