Ms Blackwood voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on its third reading in Parliament on Tuesday despite saying earlier this year that she “has no principled objection to equal marriage in secular institutions”.
Conversely Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, voted in favour of the Bill, despite initially expressing doubts about the proposed legislation.
Ms Blackwood came under pressure at the end of December when she revealed in letters to constituents that she intended to vote against any gay marriage legislation. In reply to those who contacted her regarding the issue, she wrote: “I am not an enthusiast for this change and it is clear that this is a view shared by the majority of my constituents who have contacted me so far.”
She staked out her position, stating that she was not in favour of “legislation for the sake of it or where it will produce unintended consequences.”
However she changed her mind after she came under fire from JCR Presidents and LGBTQ Reps, 38 of whom wrote a letter to her denouncing her stated intentions. They said: “We are appalled to hear of your intention to oppose legislation on equal marriage and believe it inadequately represents your constituency considering its high student population.”
They asked the MP, “to realise that there is a silent majority out there, in your constituency, that haven’t contacted you yet”. Blackwood’s Oxford West constituency is home to 14 Oxford colleges and halls.
Lincoln LGBTQ Rep Rachel Farnsworth also sent a letter to Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, requesting that he consider voting in favour of the legislation. Mr Smith had in the past expressed doubts that the legislation was necessary.
Ms Blackwood subsequently toned down her stance, clarifying that her concerns were not about the principle of same-sex marriage, but about the protections that would be put in place for religious groups. Referencing the government’s promised “quadruple lock” to legally protect the rights of religious groups who refuse to marry gay couples, she said: “my current concerns are whether the ‘quadruple lock’ will indeed be effective.”
She abstained from voting on the bill at its second reading.
However she has reverted back to her original stance, joining the 134 Conservative MPs who rebelled and voted against the Bill.
Students, many of whom originally campaigned for Ms Blackwood to drop her opposition to the Bill, expressed regret at her change of heart.
Tom Rutland, OUSU President-Elect, commented: “Having told the Oxford Mail that she had “absolutely no problem with gay marriage of any kind” it’s extremely disappointing that Nicola Blackwood has voted against equal marriage today.”
He pointed out that the move could electorally disadvantage her amongst students: “It’s a measure that commands huge support amongst the student body, many of whom are her constituents.” Rutland also noted that, “I am sure her decision will be remembered when the General Election takes place in two years.”
He thanked Andrew Smith for voting in favour of the legislation: “I am very grateful to my own MP, Andrew Smith, for voting for this legislation which I personally hope to make use of one day!”