Spencer used a blog post on his website, Bridge Ward News, to announce he would not be standing, saying that he had been prepared to “soldier on whatever my doubts” whilst he believed that Ben Gummer MP had “broadly the same beliefs” as he has, but that he will no longer support him now that he has supported the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
The government pushed for a vote on redefining marriage even though their members are privately predicting that this will involve a massive attack on religious liberty, whether it is church’s, priests, schools or believers.
I’m not a doctrinaire libertarian, but it’s a deep belief in personal liberty that bought me into politics.
I thought I had an MP who had broadly the same beliefs.
And so thought that I was obliged to support him
And that I would soldier on whatever my doubts.
I don’t. I won’t. I can’t.
Not any longer.
Mr Gummer’s stance on same sex marriage was welcomed, however, by a broad spectrum of politicians in Ipswich. Labour councillor Glen Chisholm praised his stance on twitter, as did Tory councillor Nadia Cenci.
— An Ipswich Tory (@StokeParkCllr) February 6, 2013
The loss of Mr Spencer will be a blow to Tory hopes of ever retaking Bridge Ward, where he has stood for several years. He has name recognition some councillors would be pleased with, but whilst he was unlikely to win the seat in these dog years for Tory candidates, he was keeping the sitting Labour councillors, two of whom live on the other side of the town, on their toes.
Mr Spencer was clearly also unhappy with the speech that Mr Gummer made in the House of Commons about the historical context of the 1836 Marriage Act, claiming he was making a false historical analogy, and describing him as having
“the look and feel of a 14 year old prodigy who’s showing off to the sixth form debating club when he tries to make a clever point.”
Mr Gummer, who has a Double Starred First in History from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, used his intervention in the debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to explain to his fellow MPs that the Marriage Act 1836 had been introduced to provide for civil marriage, and why that had been necessary.
He told MPs that “The Act was introduced to protect people who dissented from the common view at the time. Before 1836, people had to get married in a Church of England church, which was anathema to the many Roman Catholics, non-conformists and Quakers and the very small number of atheists. The then Government under Viscount Melbourne introduced the legislation to protect the liberties of those people. A case cited in the House at the time involved a Roman Catholic lady who had married a fellow Roman Catholic in a clandestine marriage. The husband then ran off and she was left destitute because they did not have a proper marriage contract in law.
“The 1836 Act, in seeking to protect a number of minorities, was a very forward-looking piece of legislation. The arguments marshalled against it were not dissimilar to those that we are hearing today. It was argued that marriage was somehow exclusively the preserve of religion, and that extending it into the secular sphere in any way would devalue it. At that time, the number of people, such as atheists, who were married in secular ceremonies was minuscule, but the figure has now risen to 60% of marriages and we do not regard such marriages as being of any less worth or involving any less love than those that are conducted in a church. I believe that, 177 years later, we should now seek to protect the love, the freedoms and the liberties of another minority that has been oppressed and forgotten for so long.”
Mr Spencer responds by recalling his own historical study of the period: “I studied this era longer ago than I care to remember but I never remember Anglican vicars being threatened with legal action for not allowing Catholic marriages in their churches or for Anglican church schools being closed down for refusing to teach that non-conformist marraiges were just as valid as those in the Church of England. But then I suppose that must me not being clever enough, and not Mr Gummer making a false historical analogy.”
No doubt he would have preferred Mr Gummer remembered a different quote from Viscount Melbourne. “Why not leave it alone?”