An Unnatural Union? - British Conservatism and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

Gilbert, Andrew (2015). An Unnatural Union? - British Conservatism and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. In: Diduck, Alison; Peleg, Noam and Reece, Helen eds. Law in Society: Reflections on Children, Family, Culture and Philosophy. Leiden: Brill, pp. 489–508.


This chapter analyses parliamentary discourse in the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Bill to better understand the influence of the political philosophy of conservatism on the British Conservative Party. The understanding of conservatism draws particularly on the work of Burke and Oakeshott, leading to an epistemologically modest and sceptical conservatism which approaches change cautiously and incrementally. The first part of the chapter constructs what might be considered a conservative argument for same-sex marriage by drawing on conservative political thought. In the second part of the chapter discourse analysis of the parliamentary debates is used to see if this approach was deployed. It concludes by observing that conservative ideology was more readily articulated by MPs in opposing the Bill, rather than supporting it (contrary to David Cameron's position that he supported gay marriage because he is a conservative). Where Conservative Party MPs supported the Bill, they tended to conceptualise their support using a hybrid of liberal, communitarian and conservative arguments. Ultimately, family law reform is most likely to succeed when it is consonant with practices in family life, regardless of the prevailing political wind.

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