Will anti-Trident churches now back direct action?

My abiding memory of today’s debate on Trident will be the sight of Labour MPs falling over each other to declare their enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, their support for the Tories’ policies and their opposition to their own leader.

Playground-style arguing saw at least one Tory MP suggesting that opponents of Trident need to “grow up”, as if a belief in using violence to resolve conflict were a sign of maturity. Meanwhile, Theresa May failed to answer one of the first hostile questions she has received from an MP since becoming Prime Minister (from Caroline Lucas) and stumbled through her answer when challenged by the SNP’s Angus Robertson about costs.

Today’s vote can hardly have been a surprise to anyone familiar with the childish antics and macho posturing that pass for democracy in the House of Commons. The question for opponents of Trident is: What do we now?

Last week, five major church denominations – the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the United Reformed Church – collectively urged MPs to reject nuclear weapons and vote against Trident renewal. This was excellent.

It will be even better if they will follow through on their principles and encourage peaceful struggles against Trident to continue by other means.

Parliament is only part of the process. We all share some responsibility for what our society does. Nobody has a right to prepare an act of mass murder. Today’s vote should make us determined to back nonviolent direct action for disarmament, whether in the case of nuclear weapons or others.

The churches’ voices would be stronger if they would vocally back nonviolent direct action, at least against Trident if not against militarism generally. Most of them maintain chaplains in the armed forces. What an impact it would make if they would declare that their chaplains will encourage troops to disobey orders if Trident is renewed.

While several Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops have, as individuals, criticised nuclear weapons, the Church of England as a whole has generally shied clear of lining up with other denominations to oppose it. Last year, however, a Church of England statement suggested that the arguments for Trident need “re-examining”.

I suppose this is progress of a sort. At least the Church of England is beginning tentatively to lean in the right direction. It’s also profoundly mistaken. The arguments do not need re-examining. They have been examined for years. We need to get beyond the call for debates and take up the all to action. Let’s get on with it.

100 years ago: Conscription passes into law

100 years ago today, the Military Service Act received the Royal Assent, introducing mass military conscription in the UK for the first time.

The Act stipulated that, from 2nd March, every unmarried man aged between 18 and 41 in England, Scotland and Wales would be deemed to have enlisted in the armed forces. In May, the Act was extended to married men.

As a result, thousands of people were sent to needless deaths, while thousands who resisted found themselves in prison.

Those who claimed exemption were required to go before a tribunal to put their case. Most exemptions were on grounds of occupation, health or responsibility for dependents. The Act allowed for the possibility that some could be exempted on grounds of conscientious objection. In reality, this provision was largely ignored, with almost nobody being given total exemption on these grounds.

The “conscience clause” in practice

Many conscientious objectors were turned down altogether, while others were told they could join the “Non-Combatant Corps” (NCC). This was a unit of the army that did not carry weapons and was supposed to satisfy the consciences of objectors. It was absurd. Its members were required to swear the military oath, obey orders and observe military discipline. It played a direct role in facilitating the war. Despite this, there were several instances of NCC members refusing orders when they came too close to participating directly in warfare.

Others were allowed to join the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU), a body set up by Quakers (by mostly upper middle class Quaker men, on the less radical wing of the Movement). However, many objected, saying that everyone who joined the FAU freed up someone else to go and fight. Later in the war, some were sent on the “Home Office Scheme”, a form of “alternative service” that seemed not dissimilar to being sent to a prison camp.

It used to be estimated that there were just over 16,000 conscientious objectors (COs) in World War One. Most scholars of the issue now accept that this is an underestimate, with the figure likely to be above 20,000.

Many of these were forced into the army against their will, where some refused to put on uniform, drill or obey orders. They found themselves in military detention and later in civilian prisons. Over 6,000 COs spent some time in prison during the war. Forty-two were sentenced to death, but the sentences were commuted. However, more than eighty COs died in prison or military detention, or shortly after being released on health grounds. Others never recovered their physical or mental health.

These numbers sound low compared to the millions who died fighting. The pacifists were the first to insist that they had not suffered as much as the soldiers had. They were suffering precisely because they were trying to stop the war in which these soldiers – and many civilians – were dying.

The COs were only part of the peace movement. They were by definition male and relatively young. But women and men of varied ages campaigned alongside them, liaising with opponents of war in Germany, France and elsewhere to resist the unspeakable mass slaughter.

Marking the centenary

This evening, I’ll be going to a reception at Parliament to mark 100 years of conscientious objection to conscription in the UK. It’s run by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), who played a major role in resisting conscription a century ago, although the Society in 1916 was more divided than is sometimes thought (between firm pacifists and government sympathisers).

In 1916, some right-wing (or relatively right-wing) Quakers insisted that pacifists should “thank” the government for recognising the right to conscientious objection. Others replied, rightly, that no thanks were due when the right was not being observed in practice. Furthermore, the right not to kill is so basic that we are in a grotesquely twisted world when we have to thank our rulers for acknowledging it. While this evening’s event will, I’m sure, celebrate the resistance to conscription, I hope there will be no praise for the government of the time for inserting the largely meaningless “conscience clause” into the Act. As much as anything else, its inclusion was a sop to Liberal backbenchers who supported the war but were reluctant to vote for conscription.

The resistance to World War One was as global as the war. Only a small part of it was in Britain. It was resisted in France, the US, South Africa, Tanzania, Brazil and beyond. Anti-war feeling played a major part in the revolutions that overthrew the royal rulers of Germany and Russia. A century later, we are still resisting conscription. This is literal in the cases of countries such as Israel, Eritrea, South Korea and Turkey, which still force people to kill. In Britain, our bodies are no longer conscripted. Instead our taxes are conscripted to fund the sixth highest military budget in the world. Our minds are conscripted, with militarist ideology so engrained in us that we believe that violence is the ultimate solution to conflict. Our very language is conscripted, so that we talk of “defence” when we mean “war” and “doing nothing” when we mean “doing something other than fighting”.

We need to learn from those who resisted war a century ago. Their struggle is as relevant and vital as ever.




100 years ago: Pacifists prepare to resist conscription

100 years ago today (30th December 1915) a 31-year-old Quaker bank clerk called Howard Marten wrote a poem about the development of the Great War over the proceeding year.

Howard was preparing to face a crucial test. The cabinet had just agreed to propose a bill to Parliament that would introduce military conscription for unmarried men aged 18 to 40. Howard knew he was likely to be conscripted. As a pacifist, he was determined to resist, whatever the cost.

I came across this poem when exploring Howard Marten’s letters and cuttings in Leeds University Library. The poem was handwritten in one of his notebooks, dated 30th December 1915.

I had the privilege of editing some of Howard’s writings as part of my work for the White Feather Diaries, a online storytelling project run by Quakers in Britain, which explores the lives of five Quakers in the first world war.

It may well be said that the poem has little artistic merit. On the face of it, there is nothing particularly remarkable or outstanding about it.

To me, however, it reads differently when I remember that the man writing it was struggling to know what he might face as a result of his faith. At this stage, it was unclear whether the conscription bill would include any provision for the right of conscientious objection, let alone whether any such provision would be honoured in practice. The No-Conscription Fellowship, of which Howard was part, had resolved to refuse to fight even if faced with the death penalty.

Here is the poem.

“The year of strife has nearly run its course,
And still is heard the clash of armed force
On and o’er the ocean’s wide expanse
Gone is the glamour and the false romance
Of battle. Yonder the desolated lands
Bear witness to the devastating hands
Which make God’s garden a bleak wilderness
And rob the earth of all its comeliness
Still the all-patient Love looks ever down
In deep compassion, which men strive to drown
The tender voice of pleading from above
Telling in accents clear that God is Love.”

Six months later, Howard Marten became the first British pacifist to be sentenced to death in World War One. The sentence was commuted to ten years in prison.

You can follow Howard’s story through the White Feather Diaries, which already include extracts from his writings relating to his experiences in 1914 and 1915. The site will soon be updated daily with accounts from 1916, written by Howard and four other Quakers.

I will also be blogging here on dates that mark significant centenaries in the development of conscription, and resistance to conscription, in 1916.

100 years ago: Home Secretary resigns in protest against conscription

100 years ago yesterday (28th December 1915), the British cabinet agreed to introduce military conscription. The Home Secretary, John Simon, resigned in protest.

It is sometimes said that the government was “forced to introduce conscription” because of the way the first world war was going. However, John Simon was one of many who ardently supported the war but opposed conscription.

The issue had been one of the biggest controversies in British politics over the proceeding year. Thousands of troops were dying ever day and they were no longer being replaced by equal numbers of volunteers. Some on the political right had campaigned for conscription for years – since long before the war began. Others now supported conscription on pragmatic grounds, believing it was necessary to win the war.

Many were opposed. Of course, those who opposed the war naturally opposed conscription. But it is important to recognise that there were many people, particularly in the Liberal Party, who supported the war but who opposed conscription.

The Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith had given into pressure in May 1915 and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives and the pro-war wing of the (very divided) Labour Party. A small group of Liberal MP refused to support the coalition and sat as “Independent Liberals”.

The Tories in the government, along with certain Liberals such as David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, began to push hard for conscription (Churchill was on a political journey that saw him join the Conservative Party a few years later).

Asquith had not been keen on conscription, nor had Reginald McKenna, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, or John Simon, his Home Secretary. After lengthy debate in cabinet on 28th December 1915, Asquith backed plans to propose a bill to Parliament that would introduce conscription for unmarried men. McKenna was reluctantly persuaded to go along with it. John Simon was having none of it, and resigned the same day.

When Parliament debated the bill in January 1916, John Simon provided a powerful voice of opposition from the backbenches. But the bill was passed into law on 27th January 1916. On 2nd March 1916, every unmarried man aged between 18 and 40 in England, Scotland and Wales was “deemed to have enlisted” in the armed forces.

The provision was soon extended to married men, and the age limit was later raised. Provisions guaranteeing exemption for conscientious objectors turned out to be almost worthless and opposition to conscription continued for the following three years.

I will be blogging on the centenary of significant events in this struggle. Watch this space.

Conscription – in 1916 and today

Ninety-nine years ago today (2 March 1916), every unmarried man aged between 18 and 41 in England, Scotland and Wales was “deemed to have enlisted” in the armed forces. It was only a few months before another act was passed, extending conscription to married men.

A few months later, on 1 July, over 19,000 British troops were killed in a single day at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. They were not conscripts, for the first conscripts were still being trained. Nonetheless, conscription made the Somme possible. Commanders were able to send thousands of men to their deaths knowing that were now many more to replace them. Thousands of German and French soldiers joined them in death, fighting for competing sides in an imperial war that had nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with money and power.

In World War One, between 16,000 and 23,000 British men refused to accept conscription and became conscientious objectors (COs). The vast majority of COs were denied exemption by the tribunals set up to deal with them. Many were offered partial exemption, which some accepted but many did not. Over 6,000 COs went to prison, while others were held in work camps run by the Home Office in which conditions were only slightly better than prison. Others – both men and women – were imprisoned for anti-war activism under the terms of the draconian Defence of the Realm Act.

The COs’ witness against militarism is an inspiration today. We no longer have physical conscription in the UK, but it is a reality in much of the world, from Israel to South Korea to Colombia to Eritrea. In the UK, volunteer troops theoretically have the right to leave the forces if they develop a conscientious objection during their term of service. In practice this is not upheld, as shown by the case of Michael Lyons, a member of the navy imprisoned in 2011 after having a change of heart and refusing to use a gun.

In the UK, our bodies are not conscripted. But our money is conscripted, with taxes used to fund the highest military budget in the European Union. Our minds are conscripted, with constant pressure to believe that violence is the only solution to conflict and that soldiers are heroes. Our very language is conscripted, as we say “defence” when we mean warfare, “security” when we mean fear and “conflict” when we mean violence.

The struggle against militarism and warfare is as vital in 2015 as it was 99 years ago. Earlier today, the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Burghfield, Berkshire, was peacefully blockaded by people determined to stop the development of nuclear arms. Yesterday, thousands of people marched in Moscow against Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. The Russian and British people have more in common with each other than they do with their warmongering governments. Every war opposed, every weapon disarmed, every aspect of militarism denied, every refusal to put our nationality ahead of our humanity is an act of resistance to the idols of violence that were rejected by the pacifists during World War One.

Harry Stanton was a blacksmith’s son from Luton. As a Quaker, he refused to accept conscription in 1916. He was forced into the army, where he refused to obey orders. Within four months, he had experienced imprisonment, torture, hunger and a death sentence that was commuted to ten years in prison. He was 21.

As Harry listened to his death sentence being commuted, he felt that “the feeling of joy and triumph surged up within me, and I felt proud to have the privilege of being one of that small company of COs testifying to a truth which the world as yet had not grasped, but which it would one day treasure as a most precious inheritance”.

Nearly a century later, we are still struggling to grasp that truth. Let’s honour the COs’ legacy by continuing their struggle. We need to object, conscientiously, to warfare and militarism today.

Low pay in church: I hate to say it, but the Sun’s right

It’s a rare day that I find myself agreeing with the Sun.

The Sun has run a front-page piece today about the fact that various parts of the Church of England are advertising jobs at below the recognised Living Wage. This is despite the CofE bishops backing the Living Wage in their pastoral letter last week, a letter attacked by the right-wing press for its (mildly) left-of-centre outlook.

Of course, some of us have been calling for years for churches to pay the living wage to all staff. On one level, when you’ve been campaigning on an issue for a long time, it’s frustrating to see it become headline news for the wrong reasons. I doubt that the Sun’s editors are motivated by a concern for church employees’ livelihoods. They want to discredit bishops who have criticised Tory policy. But the Sun’s hypocrisy does not make the Church’s hypocrisy OK.

Justin Welby is fairly media-savvy and has handled the controversy better than many church leaders could have done, although it’s remarkable that he does not seem to have seen it coming. He described the payment of low wages to church employees as “embarrassing”. He would be more convincing if he had described it as downright outrageous. Welby is right to point out that the Church of England is made up of various parts that are to a large degree independent and that he cannot force individual churches, cathedrals or dioceses to pay the Living Wage. However, Canterbury Diocese is one of those at fault. It would be good to see churches acknowledging their mistreatment of workers rather than getting defensive about it or making excuses.

I am not suggesting that all CofE workers are underpaid or mistreated. But some of them clearly are. Of course, this applies to other churches as well as the Church of England. Some may be good employers in some ways but fall down considerably in other areas. The Quakers pay the living wage, but this has not stopped the mistreatment of café workers in the Quaker headquarters who spoke out against the way things were run. Perhaps the most extreme example is the Salvation Army, who are colluding with one of austerity’s gravest injustice by running workfare schemes.

These organisations, like the Church of England, do a great deal of good work tackling poverty and speaking out against injustice. That’s what makes their treatment of some of their own workers so shocking and so sad.

Let’s not get distracted by the role of the Sun in today’s controversy. This is not about defending the church against the Sun. This is about defending the rights of low paid workers. However much we mock the Sun’s motivations, we can still take advantage of what they have done. This is an opportunity to push churches to pay decent wages and treat workers better. This is vital if churches are to provide any sort of prophetic witness on issues of economic justice – issues that are central to the Gospel.

Ten better ways to honour the dead of World War One

The British establishment, like much of the country, has seemed quite confused about how to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.

I’m pleased to say that William Windsor last week spoke of the “power of reconciliation” to an audience that included the presidents of Germany and Austria. He unfortunately undermined his own words by saying, “We salute those who died to give us our freedom”. Freedom in Britain was suppressed, not enhanced, as a result of the first world war.

David Cameron speaks of honouring the dead while continuing to trade arms around the world and pouring billions into nuclear weapons. Many people turned off their lights for an hour at 10pm on 4th August. I respect that many of them were truly honouring the millions killed in war, but I did not join in with this is activity, backed as it was a by a hypocritical pro-war establishment.

So I have some suggestions for better ways of honouring the victims of World War One. Some may appeal to you more than others and I appreciate that many of them are focused on the UK. However, I hope they help. Please feel free to suggest others!

1.  To remember the thousands of WW1 soldiers who were under 18 (the youngest known to have died was 14), sign this petition against the recruitment of under-18s in to the UK army. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit 16-year-olds into its armed forces. Although they are not sent to the front line before turning 18, they are committed to staying in the army until they are 22, bound by an agreement they made before becoming legal adults.

2.  Wear a white poppy, to remember the victims of all wars – people of all nationalities, including both civilians and soldiers.

3.  Honour those who resisted the power of the arms trade, which fuelled WW1 (the Austrian fleet was supplied by Vickers, a British arms company whose shareholders included the UK’s Under-Secretary for War, and which is now part of BAE Systems). Sign an email to the Foreign Secretary calling for an end to UK’s arms exports to Israel.

4.  Remember the conscientious objectors imprisoned and sometimes tortured for refusing to fight. You can send a message of support to one or more of the many conscientious objectors in prison around the world today. War Resisters International keep a database of Prisoners for Peace.

5.  Honour the victims of war by working to prevent future wars. Join Action AWE in taking nonviolent action at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire in the run-up to the general election.

6.  Learn about those who said “no” to the war by reading the White Feather Diaries, an online storytelling project about the lives and struggles of five Quakers during WW1 (I must declare an interest here, as I’ve been involved in editing it).

7.  Help to prevent war by understanding its causes. Read about the role of the arms trade in WW1. You can invite a speaker on the issue to your church, mosque, synagogue, school, university, union branch or other group.

8.  Honour those who were pressurised into joining up by resisting attempts to militarise young people today. You can support the Military Out of Schools campaign, run by Forces Watch.

9.  If you’re a school student, teacher, parent/carer – or know someone who is – suggest the use of Quaker resources for schools on conscientious objectors in WW1, ensuring a different side of the story gets heard and that the complexity of WW1 is respected.

10. Pray for all those affected by war today.

Remembering the people who resisted World War One

A week today (on 28 July), it will be 100 years since World War One began. Two weeks today (on 4 August), it will be 100 years since the UK entered the war.

Amidst all the many discussions of this centenary, there has been relatively little discussion about the people who opposed World War One and campaigned against it. Yet the leading anti-war group of the time – the No-Conscription Fellowship – had 100,000 subscribers at its height. There were at least 16,000 conscientious objectors (far more than the government expected), of whom over 6,000 went to prison. Other peace activists were imprisoned under laws restricting criticism of the war.

For the last few months I’ve spent lots of time researching the peace activists of World War One. It has been a real privilege to spend time reading diaries, memoirs and letters from prison, many of them unpublished. Most of this work has been because I was hired by Quakers in Britain to edit the White Feather Diaries, an online storytelling project exploring the lives and dilemmas of five pacifists from the time.

The White Feather Diaries will go online on 4 August.

I will also be teaching a course on the World War One peace movement for the Workers’ Educational Association in Richmond (in London). It will begin in September and run on Tuesday afternoons. And I’ll be writing about these issues in various places over the coming weeks and, I hope, years. Many thanks to everyone who has encouraged and questioned me and is continuing to do so. Watch this space!

White Feather Diaries – remembering the people who resisted world war one

Yesterday saw the formal launch of the White Feather Diaires, a social media project exploring the lives of British pacifists during the first world war. The project’s run by Quakers in Britain, who hired me as a writer and an editor for the project. I’m really pleased to be working on this project. Yesterday we announced the names of the five individuals whose writings will form the basis of the project, when it goes online in the summer.

The White Feather Diaries, using blogging methods and Twitter, will serialise the real writings of these five very different people, beginning on 4th August, the centenary of the UK’s entry to the war.  The writings include diaries, letters and memoirs, the majority of which have never previously been published.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, the five people to feature will be Howard Marten, a 30-year-old clerk from London; John “Ted” Hoare, an 18-year-old student from Derbyshire; Hilda Clark, a 33-year-old doctor from Somerset; Laurence Cadbury, a 25-year old engineer from Birmingham; and John “Bert” Brocklesby, a 27-year-old teacher from Conisborough in Yorkshire. There will of course be references to several others too.

Between now and August, you can follow news about the project on Facebook.

The public launch of the project was held yesterday because it was International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, when people around the world remember all those who have asserted and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill. The Day received far more attention than usual because of the centenary of the outbreak of world war one.

We remember the past because it affects the present and the future. Hundreds of conscientious objectors are still in prison around the world. Members of the British armed forces who have a change of heart are not provided with meaningful opportunities to register a conscientious objection. As recently as 2010, Michael Lyons, a member of the Royal Navy, was sent to a military prison for refusing to pick up a rifle, after his views on war changed.

In the UK, our taxes go to fund one of the world’s highest military budgets and a constant stream of messages tell us to admire “our” troops and to believe that violence is the ultimate response to conflict. Our bodies are no longer conscripted, but our minds and money are conscripted instead.

So let’s learn from those who showed the way a hundred years ago and had the courage to say no. We will remember them.

Miller’s marriage mess-up reveals ministers’ ignorance and contempt

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would be tempted to believe that the government’s current proposals for same-sex marriage have been designed with the intention of scuppering the whole idea. But this government seems far too disorganised for a decent conspiracy.

In the space of less than 24 hours, ministers have revealed the UK government to be clueless about religion, contemptuous of civil rights and bizarrely ignorant about the history, culture and politics of Wales.

To recap: the government conducted a consultation on same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Cameron’s ministers had been expected to propose only civil ceremonies for same-sex marriage, a sham equality that would have maintained discrimination against religious same-sex couples. Last week, Cameron said he had changed his mind. He backed the right of faith groups to hold religious same-sex weddings if they choose to do so. This followed years of hard work by Unitarians, Quakers, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and other pro-equality groups.

But after the two steps forward came one step back. “Gay marriage to be illegal in Church of England” roared yesterday’s headlines. The headline was basically true, but the situation is more complicated – and far worse – than it suggests.

Appeasing prejudice

Ever since marriage equality was proposed, its opponents have argued that churches will be forced to host same-sex weddings against their will. This claim has no basis in reality. These scaremongers are unable to name a single organisation that wants to make it compulsory to host same-sex marriage ceremonies. Most churches have no legal obligation to marry anyone at all. Of all the countries that have legalised same-sex marriages, none has witnessed the courts forcing them onto churches. A religious marriage is an act of worship and nobody should be forced to participate in an act of worship in which they do not believe. This is a scare story spread by a combination of the ignorant, the prejudiced and the deceitful.

Miller suggests a “quadruple lock” to prevent same-sex marriages being forced on unwilling churches. Two of these concern the right of churches not to host marriages they don’t believe in. The other two reveal a worrying ignorance about British churches.

One states that a faith group can carry out same-sex marriages only if its governing body has applied for permission. This is problematic for denominations such as the United Reformed Church, who may resolve to leave the decision to each congregation. In the Baptist Union, there are calls for individual churches and ministers to be allowed to celebrate same-sex weddings if they choose. A positive response to such calls is less likely if the Baptist Union as a whole has to apply to the government for permission, thus appearing to be endorsing same-sex marriage.

Insulting Wales

The worst provision concerns the Church of England and the (Anglican) Church in Wales. Miller proposes that it should be illegal for them to host same-sex weddings, although the leaders of both have already said that they do not wish to do so.

The London-based media noticed the English provision first, but it is the inclusion of the Church in Wales that is more shocking. The Church of England is the established church and its rules are governed by law. Yesterday, Maria Miller spoke of the Church in Wales as an established church. She is 92 years too late. There has been no established church in Wales since 1920.

It says a great deal that Miller and her civil servants appear to be so ignorant about an important political, cultural and religious difference between the two countries to whom their law will apply. I applaud the Church in Wales for responding to the news by saying that they don’t want to be treated differently to other churches.

When it comes to the Church of England, it can be argued that the church’s laws are the state’s laws. Also, the Church of England is the only church that has a legal obligation to marry certain people. This is a consequence of the absurdity of establishment. Many Anglican leaders seem to want the benefits of establishment without the obligations. We will see them enjoying those benefits when certain bishops rise from their unelected seats in the House of Lords to argue that other churches should be denied the same freedom that they demand for themselves – the freedom to choose who to marry.

Freeing ourselves

We do not need “quadruple locks”, designed to appease scaremongers and homophobes who will never be satisfied with any provision that extends gay and bisexual people’s rights. We do not need special provisions to privilege certain religious groups over others. We need a law that states that marriage is open to all regardless of gender and that no faith group (established or otherwise) is obliged to perform a wedding in which they do not believe.

We could also do with an investigation into the unfairness of marriage law more widely, including the fact that some faith groups have far more rights than others to solemnise marriages.

We stand at a crucial juncture in the struggle for gay and bisexual people’s civil rights in the UK. We have come so far – it’s only 45 years since sexual relations between men were legalised on the British mainland. But a long journey is no reason to give up while inequality still remains. Complacency would be grossly immoral when homophobic violence is rife and gay and bisexual teenagers are far more likely to kill themselves than their straight counterparts. Unequal treatment in law sends out the message that unequal treatment in society is morally acceptable.

Miller’s bill risks being laughed through the Commons and bogged down in the Lords. Certain Tory politicians and right-wing lobby groups are determined to fight it all the way. Cameron and colleagues, offering the bill as a sop to the LibDems, may have little incentive to fight for it. The defeat of marriage equality remains a very real possibility.

I do not want future history books to write that civil rights campaigners failed to act at a crucial moment, that we complacently thought that victory was in the bag, that pro-equality Christians were too concerned with passive unity to stand up for active justice. The future of marriage equality is not up to ignorant ministers, duplicitous Tories or celebrity “role models”. It is up to you and me.