A gay Labour MP has defended criticising the government's drive to introduce same-sex marriage as "pure politics".
Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour culture secretary and one of the most high profile gay men in parliament, said there was no need to change the law on marriage because civil partnerships were enough.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Bradshaw said David Cameron was only pushing for gay marriage in order to demonstrate he had modernised the Conservative Party and worried it risked damaging gay rights rather than advancing them.
“This is more of David Cameron trying to drag the Conservatives kicking and screaming into the modern world,” he said.
“Of course, we’ll support it, but this is pure politics on their part. This isn’t a priority for the gay community, which already won equal rights [with civil partnerships]."
"We’ve never needed the word ‘marriage,’ and all it’s done now is get a bunch of bishops hot under the collar. We’ve been pragmatic, not making the mistake they have in the U.S., where the gay lobby has banged on about marriage."
His comments have caused controversy among supporters of gay marriage, who would have expected Bradshaw to support the coalition on the issue.
The Exeter MP since 1997, Bradsahw is himself in a civil partnership and was one of the first openly gay men to be elected to the Commons.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg's proposals to allow gay couples to marry have had the strong backing of Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Following some criticism directed at him on Twitter, Bradshaw said for gay marriage to be a “priority” it needed to be better than or different from civil partnerships, arguing the current proposals were little more than semantics.
"I haven’t yet heard an explanation as to how what the government is proposing would be different or better," he said.
"Some of the most persuasive arguments in favour of gay marriage have been made by the antis. The description of it as 'grotesque' by the Scottish Roman Catholic leader Cardinal O’Brien and his comparing it to slavery were themselves grotesque.
"But the antis have something in common with some of the supporters of gay marriage in that they are both over claiming for the change."
Bradshaw said he recognised that some gay people who were religious wanted the word "marriage" as it was important to their faith that their relationships been accepted by their Churches.
"But the government’s proposals won’t do that," he said. "They won’t force faith groups into accepting or conducting gay marriages just as the Civil Partnerships legislation didn’t force them into accepting or conducting civil partnerships."
"The fact that teenagers are still driven to suicide by homophobic bullying is a priority. Hate crime, homophobia in the workplace, against elderly lesbians and gays, in sport, are priorities," he said.
"Good healthcare and health and sex education should be priorities. The spread of LGBT human rights to most of the rest of the world where people are still persecuted or worse just for being gay is definitely a priority.
He added: "Changing the words civil partnership to gay marriage when for most people they’re interchangeable anyway – is not my priority. But I’ll vote for it and hope we get it – if only to further expose the prejudice of some of those who oppose it."
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