Speeches from Hansard that I made years ago in debates about the repeal of Section 28 and reducing the age of sexual consent have surfaced, in which my antediluvian prejudices are quite shocking, even to me.
How could I have ever believed such things, let alone said them?
My transformation from extreme social conservative to libertarian deserves some explanation. How was it that I opposed those measures only to become the champion of the Equal Marriage Act, the Lord Commissioner responsible for whipping it through all its stages in the Commons.
Long term readers of this column would have witnessed that transformation as it took place in these blogs. I call it a transformation not an evolution, because it was sudden.
I put my original prejudice down to intellectual laziness. I simply never challenged, or even thought about the views that I held. Furthermore, when I received a very large correspondence in support of my position and against the liberalising measures that we were debating, it was so much easier to simply reply by stating that I agreed with them, rather than investing any intellectual effort in the matter.
My mind changed when the Government presented Parliament with the Sexual Orientation Regulations. The purpose of this measure was to prevent the providers of any commercial service from discriminating against a potential client on the basis their sexuality.
It prompted a huge lobbying campaign by certain elements of organised religion. I received hundreds of letters, most of them containing the same example: a Christian couple running a B&B would be required by regulation to accept as guests a gay couple, notwithstanding the offence to their deeply held religious beliefs.
In a flash of enlightenment the question occurred to me ‘ what Gospel is it they could possibly have been reading?’
How on earth could they imagine that, were Our Lord the landlord, that he would have turned the quests away?
Having made that leap, I then put time and effort into studying the Scriptures. The result of which study I put to use when the controversy arose when the Equal Marriage Bill was before Parliament. I published a number of defences of the Bill from a biblical perspective. One of which, entitled Too Much Leviticus, was even written-up in The Guardian in a column by Chris Bryant MP (a former Vicar) and which prompted an attempt by a national evangelical association to reclaim me for the ‘truth’. It resulted in a very unpleasant meeting, the only one in which I’ve ever had to ask my guests to leave.
It is easy to forget the virulence and bitterness of the Campaign against the Bill. My stance led to a significant number of resignations from my political association. I was assured that I was destroying marriage, to which I responded that the marriages to which they were objecting would be occasions of joy and celebration to the participants, their friends and relatives, but wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone else.
Events have proved me right: marriage has survived and, I believe, it has been strengthened.
There are examples of politicians having radically revised their opinions. The ‘journey’ of John Bercow comes to my mind. Many of my colleagues derided him for it, but -though I still disagree with him about almost everything- I rather respect him for it.