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LONDON — Call it bad timing. On the very day President Obama gave his endorsement to same-sex marriage, the British government appeared to defer a promise to legalize it.
Gay rights activists were described as “bemused” by the decision not to include the issue in the legislative program outlined Wednesday in the annual speech by Queen Elizabeth II.
Although same-sex marriage is a less emotional and divisive issue in much of Europe than it has proved to be in the United States, Prime Minister David Cameron apparently opted to avoid a potential spat with the right wing of his Conservative Party after a poor showing in local elections last week.
Seven European states already allow gay marriage, and Britain, where same-sex civil partnerships have been legal since 2004, was due to follow suit by 2015. François Hollande, France’s president-elect, is also expected to push for same-sex marriage when he takes office.
At his party’s annual conference last October, Mr. Cameron said gay marriage was about equality and commitment.
“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other,” he said. “So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
Activists are now concerned that Mr. Cameron might be backing away from a commitment to change the law after right-wing MPs urged a return to “traditional values” after last week’s local election losses.
Gerald Howarth, junior defense minister, suggested the same-sex marriage issue was a contributing factor in the results. He told the BBC: “A lot of Conservatives have written to me saying ‘I am a lifelong Conservative, there is no mandate for this, why is this being proceeded with?’”
Others suggested gay marriage was a “distraction” when the government had much more pressing issues to confront, including the economy.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the British gay rights charity Stonewall said on Wednesday: “We’re disappointed that this modest measure has not been included in the Queen’s Speech.”
When Pink News, the gay news service, questioned the prime minister’s office over the weekend on reports that legislation would be dropped from the Queen’s speech, a spokeswoman said there had never been any plans to include it. That, however, “does not” mean that Mr. Cameron is “backing down” or “diluting” his policy on equal marriage, she added.
Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party’s spokeswoman on home affairs, urged Mr. Cameron not to backtrack, saying, “The attempt by the Tory Right to blame equal marriage for their election results is utterly ludicrous and reveals instead their deep hostility to equality.”
Coinciding with a potential government about-face, activists this week started a new campaign — Out4Marriage — to garner support for the legalization campaign by putting online video endorsements from politicians of all parties and global A-list celebrities.
The Coalition for Equal Marriage was meanwhile offering a guide for British voters wanting to know where their elected representatives stood on the issue.
As the British government deferred the issue of legalization governing marriage law in England and Wales for at least another year, there were appeals for the Scottish Parliament to take a lead.
“The Scottish Government now has the perfect opportunity to prove that Scotland is capable of being the progressive beacon that our political leaders want it to be, by leading the way on equal marriage rights,” Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said.
This article originally appeared on: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/disappointment-as-gay-marriage-is-left-out-of-queens-speech/Older postNewer post