Harlow latest

09:56 Thursday 07 February 2013  Written by Chris Moss

Harlow MP receives online threats following gay marriage vote

HARLOW MP Robert Halfon has received threats of violence and online abuse after he voted against gay marriage in Tuesday’s House of Commons vote.

The Tory backbencher told the Star he had been subjected to a "torrent of vile abuse" on Twitter.

Harlow MP Robert Halfon

According to Mr Halfon, messages sent via the social networking site included sick jokes about his disability – he was born with a form of cerebral palsy – and one threatening him with physical violence.

He has passed details of the most extreme comments to the police.

"Obviously I’m used to getting all kinds of abuse as an MP and normally it’s water off a duck’s back, but some of these messages are beyond the pale," he said.

"Of course I understand that people will not agree with my opinions on gay marriage and the vast majority have expressed their own views in a reasoned, adult way.

"I find it incredible, however, that some of those people claiming to be fighting for tolerance and equality fail to see the hypocrisy in giving me abuse for expressing a different view to their own."

Mr Halfon argued that the bill – which was ultimately approved with a majority of 225 votes but still needs to get through the House of Lords before becoming law – would have "profound and possibly unintended implications" for faith institutions.

He said he had spent six months listening to the views of constituents, local churches and faith groups before reaching his decision – which he claimed was made in the interests of equality.

He said the issue was the one of the most talked about topics at his weekly public surgeries and he had received more than 400 letters from Harlow residents urging him to vote against gay marriage, with fewer than 10 in support.

"I didn’t just decide to vote against this bill on a whim," he said. "I spent an awful lot of time finding out what my constituents want and exploring the pros and cons of gay marriage before making my decision."

He argued that civil partnerships had already "squared the circle" by giving same sex couples the opportunity to enter into a union bestowing them with the same rights as marriage without threatening the long-held traditions of faith communities.

He added: "Most reasonable people agree that the rights of homosexuals are important. For this reason there is respect for civil part¬nerships and the rights that conveys.

"However, I also believe that people of religious faiths have rights too and society should not attempt to redefine marriage in a way that will most likely have profound – and possibly unintended – implications for faith institutions."

Suzy Stride
Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Suzy Stride

Suzy Stride, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Harlow, echoed some of Mr Halfon’s concerns.

She said she supported the bill in principle but would have only voted in its favour if "safeguards" were in place to protect from persecution those religious institutions unwilling to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies.

"Like Rob, I have spent a lot of time talking to people about this bill, which I would say I am happy to support in principle," she said.

"We just need to make sure effective safeguards are in place to protect those religious institutions and individuals worried about the impact of the bill on their beliefs and traditions, as I fully understand religious groups’ concerns."

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