OUSU condemns Blackwood U-turn

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Nicola-Blackwood-Oxford-2010-HeadshotOUSU has passed a motion condemning Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, for her decision to vote against the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

The motion denounces the MP’s decision on the grounds that it “does not represent the student population of Oxford’s position on gay marriage.”

It also mandates the OUSU President to write to Blackwood expressing students’ dismay at her decision and the OUSU sabbatical officers to inform students of her decision.

The letter, which has been openly shared on Facebook, reads: “I have been mandated to express the anger of Oxford students at your decision, and to ask you to explain why you suggested in previous correspondence with students that you would vote in favour of the Bill (given its satisfaction of your initial concerns about a religion’s freedom not to perform same-sex marriages), but then reneged on this statement by voting against the Bill.”

Blackwood had previously stated that she “had no principled objection” to the Bill, and indicated to students that she would not vote against it, abstaining at the second reading. This was after a letter, signed by 38 JCR and MCR presidents, urged her to vote in favour of it.

Despite this however, Blackwood voted against the Bill at its third reading in Parliament last week.

However, Blackwood defended her decision, explaining that she was an “opponent of discrimination in all its forms” and reiterated that she had “no principled objection to equal marriage in secular institutions.”

Blackwood denied that her concerns about adequate legal protections for religious institutions had been allayed, explaining: “I abstained from voting in the second reading because although I support the principle of the Bill, my concerns about details of the legislation meant I felt I could not vote for it.”

She expressed her worry that a lack of legal safeguards for religious groups choosing not to carry out same-sex marriages would result in such groups being subject to legal challenges in the European Court of Human Rights.

She said: “I am not convinced that these protections will work if challenged in the ECtHR, as is very likely”.

But the letter sent on behalf of OUSU Council by David J Townsend stated that Council had passed a motion expressing its belief that voting against the Bill “undermines that group [LGBTQ people] and their relationships.”

It adds: “When Members of Parliament condone such fundamental discrimination, it further frustrates efforts to remove homophobia in society” and that “you are the MP of a large number of students and should be seeking to protect and promote their rights to equality.”

Jane Cahill, JCR President at The Queen’s College, proposed the motion. She said: “It is crucial that students know their MP’s stance on this issue, especially since so many of them lobbied her to to change her view.

“It’s unbelievable that [Blackwood] would simply not take into account a joint statement of 38 JCR and MCR Presidents as well as the numerous petitions from the colleges. No one could claim Oxford students didn’t make their position on this clear. She deliberately sought to appeased those students, and then ignored them.”

Cahill added: “The Student Union has a responsibility to condemn such behaviour from our representatives in Parliament.”

St Anne’s JCR President, Oscar Boyd, was also involved in the campaign to get JCR Presidents on board with the motion. He echoed Cahill’s sentiments, saying: “It was incredibly disappointing to hear of Nicola Blackwood’s vote against the bill, especially after earlier indications that she was prepared to listen to students’ concerns.

“It is only right that an MP should be made accountable to those she claims to represent.”

 

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