A relatively small number of constituents have written to ask me why I voted against extending the equal marriage provisions of England and Wales to Northern Ireland earlier this week.
That correspondence pales into insignificance compared to the deluge of mail that I received over months and years from 2010 until the passing of the Equal Marriage Act in 2013.
I was a prominent supported of that legislation and sought to stiffen David Cameron’s resolve to persevere with it in the teeth of vociferous opposition.
I recall being assured by some constituents that it would destroy marriage, and by others that it would bring down the wrath of God upon our nation.
On that second point I was able to write to reassure them that the provisions applied only to civil marriage: a legal contract between two parties; and that the legislation had no effect on Holy Matrimony celebrated in churches and blessed by Almighty God.
On the first point I assured them that it wouldn’t have any effect on any marriage except where the couple specifically wanted it to: the provisions of the Act were voluntary and not compulsory; if same sex marriage doesn’t appeal to you, then you needn’t enter into one!
I told my correspondents that such same sex marriages would be occasions of joy and celebration to the participants, their friends and relations, and wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone else.
So it has proved: Marriage has not been destroyed, and the wrath of God has yet to be visited upon us.
So, why did I not support amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill last week, which were designed to extend the same marriage provisions to the province as are now enjoyed on the mainland?
The answer is simple. Our devolution settlement with Northern Ireland devolves decisions relating to marriage to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. In short, the decision is one to be made by Northern Ireland and for Northern Ireland, and not one to be imposed by Westminster.
It struck me a supreme irony that a bill designed to get the Assembly back up and running again, should be amended with provisions that usurped its proper jurisdiction.
Exactly the same principle determined my opposition to other amendments that were similarly tabled and which were designed to extend abortion in Northern Ireland.
I do not doubt the well-meaning intent of those who supported (and carried) these amendments.
I sit on the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee however, and I am conscious of the sensitivities of people who want to take decisions democratically for themselves rather than having them imposed from the mainland. There remains a ‘fragility’ within the province of which we need to take proper account.