The Green Party does not have a whip on Brighton and Hove City Council, and while it seeks to achieve a consensus on issues coming before the Council, members of the Green Group are permitted to vote according to their conscience.
The decision of Hollingdean and Stanmer councillor, Christina Summers, to vote against same sex marriages at Thursday’s Full Council meeting on a notice of motion put forward by Labour councillor Warren Morgan. Councillor Summers told the Argus that it was a conscious decision and not made “off the cuff.” she said: “I could have abstained but I needed to qualify that I could not. The problem here is the understanding of equality. I do not agree that disagreeing with same sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all. I feel that marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman together in a relationship and about procreation and family.”
Now some Green Party members have begun discussions about whether councillor Summers should be expelled from the Green Party.
I fundamentally disagree with the position that councillor Summers takes on the issue. At the same time I think that should any action be taken against her would be wrong, even discriminatory on the grounds of religion and gender.
When selected to stand in Hollingdean and Stanmer, Christina Summers made no secret of her religious affiliations. At the time she was a member of the Calvary Church in Viaduct Road, a church with a social conscience but with clear views regarding homosexuality, abortion and the headship of men (views which I find repugnant). While I don’t know whether and how much councillor Summers subscribes to these views, it should come as no surprise to anyone if she did. In a political party like the Greens, it is rather perverse to now say she now cannot obey her conscience. To take action against her now would alienate the Greens from many Christians.
Regarding sexual discrimination, no action was taken against councillor Ben Duncan when he made a ‘joke’ about only smoking weed when he was raping and pillaging, or something similarly distasteful. Ben Duncan has a leading role on policing. I doubt it was well known at the time of his selection that he felt it was acceptable to make ‘jokes’ about rape. He has subsequently apologised for the wide offence he caused.
So no action was taken against a male councillor for a grossly sexist action that was not based, I am happy to accept, on conscience, but consideration is being given to taking action against a female councillor for an action based on her conscience. That would smack of gender discrimination and might suggest that there are elements of misogyny within the Green Group. I don’t believe that this is the case.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and the Green’s spokesperson on LGBT issues, Phelim MacCafferty, told the Argus that the Greens “believe she is entitled to hold her view but this does not reflect the position, spirit and track record of the green Party in extending human and civil rights for all social groups irrespective of sexual orientation or on other grounds.”
Well said, Phelim. That is a mature and measured response. It is a shame he went on to say: “Green councillors will be meeting to discuss this issue soon.”
Can I suggest that when this item is reached, someone proposes, in a mature and measured way, “Next business”. If the Greens really think that spending time debating the views and voting of just one of its members on this issue deserves time and attention, then the Group will become a laughing stock. It will take more than Christina Summers voting as she did to cause the slightest damage to the Green Party’s excellent record on LGBT issues.