A TORY MP from Yorkshire has told how he was “beaten unconscious” in a homophobic attack as he used a Commons debate to hit out at the “extreme” elements in his own party who vehemently oppose gay marriage.
Stuart Andrew, the MP for Pudsey, told the Commons how he was set upon by a gang of men in the street “because of who and what I am”.
In a highly personal speech as MPs debated the Government’s Bill to allow same-sex marriage, Mr Andrew also spoke of the “hardest and darkest” years in his life spent trying to balance his Christian faith with his homosexuality.
“Religious faith is not just the preserve of heterosexuals,” he said. “One of my hardest challenges was balancing my sexuality with my faith.
“It has taken me years to do that, and as I said at the time, some of those battles were the hardest and darkest in my life.”
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill cleared its third reading in the Commons last night, despite strong opposition from Tory backbenchers who had sought to derail its passage.
Mr Andrew, 41, paid tribute to those opposed to the Bill who had spoken with a “calm and measured tone” – but hit out at others who used more “extreme language”.
In particular, he turned his attention to former Tory Defence Minister Sir Gerald Howarth, who told MPs on Monday of his personal fears about what he dubbed the “aggressive homosexual community”.
“I fear the playing field is not being leveled,” the Aldershot MP said. “I believe the pendulum is swinging so far the other way, and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further.”
The remarks were widely ridiculed on the social networking website Twitter, and Mr Andrew described his party colleague’s stance as “disappointing to say the least.”
“The extremes on both sides of the cause have not acted well,” Mr Andrew said. “It has been disappointing, to say the least, over the past few months to hear some of the phrases used. The term ‘aggressive homosexuals’ was just one such phrase.”
Mr Andrew, 41, turned the phrase deftly on its head, highlighting an incident when living in north Wales in 1997 in which both he and his father were hospitalised by a brutal homophobic attack.
“I am not an aggressive man, but I have had the misfortune of facing aggression in a violent, physical form,” he said, adding jokingly that he was not referring to “that incident” when he was infamously headbutted by Labour MP Eric Joyce in a Commons bar last year.
“In 1997, I was attacked and beaten unconscious by three men because of who and what I am,” Mr Andrew said. “That had a profound effect on me at that time, but in time I fought back, and what helped were the decisions taken in (Parliament).”
Mr Andrew’s speech was warmly praised on all sides of the House. Labour’s Hilary Benn, the MP for Leeds Central, described his words as “powerful and moving”. Julian Smith, the Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon, said anyone opposed to gay marriage should read the speech.
Mr Andrew and Mr Smith were two of five backbench Tory MPs from Yorkshire to vote in favour of the equal marriage Bill in last night’s free vote, along with Brigg and Goole’s Andrew Percy, Harrogate and Knaresborough’s Andrew Jones, and Keighley’s Kris Hopkins.
Eight of their Conservative colleagues from the region voted against, including Government whip Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, and Ministerial aides Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer, and Alec Shelbrooke, MP for Elmet and Rothwell.
One Labour MP from Yorkshire, Leeds East’s George Mudie, also voted against the Bill.