It isn’t often that a piece in the Spectator makes its way straight into a Prime Minister’s party conference speech but, as this magazine’s online Coffee House hinted last week, Douglas Murray’s ‘Why conservatives should welcome gay marriage’ (1 October) looks like an example. I’ve often disagreed and occasionally crossed swords with Mr Murray but always admired him as a writer; this article, though, was to my mind not only framed with clarity and grace, but came close to constructing the definitive case in moral logic for ending inequalities between civil partnership and marriage.
I can’t add to it. For years after being elected to parliament I tried to explain the Conservative case for giving social status to same-sex relationships. I attempted to draw attention to the cruel circularity of the argument that gay love was a flimsy affair, typically short-lived, furtive and driven only by lust, therefore society should penalise such pairings, make it as hard as possible for homosexuals to meet or stay openly together, and drive home by law the moral inequivalence between heterosexual and homosexual love. But somehow the time was not right for my argument; or I never found the right words. Murray did; and it can surely be no coincidence that a few days later David Cameron found almost the same words when he addressed the Tory conference in Manchester, and explained how he supported gay marriage not ‘despite… [but] because I am Conservative’.
Gay ‘marriage’. On the question of nomenclature I remain torn. I distrust campaigns to change social attitudes by changing language. That has a rather Orwellian feel. To many of my generation, and older generations too, ‘marriage’ refers to the union of a man and a woman. I wouldn’t want to steal the word from people who use it exclusively in that way, or distort its natural meaning.