The local MP’s against gay marriage – but his constituents aren’t

Tom Peck finds a difference of opinion in a Cabinet minister’s seat

It’s no surprise that so many people want to get married at St Alkmund’s Parish Church. More than 300 years old and standing at the top of the historic Shropshire market town of Whitchurch, the church could be the dictionary definition of picture-postcard beauty.

This year’s wedding season, and next year’s –  and even 2015’s – is already filling up. And the local MP, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, is unambiguous about what those weddings should look like.

An outspoken traditionalist, he is  expected to break ranks with most of his Cabinet colleagues today by  voting against David Cameron’s plans to legalise gay marriage.

But even in this little corner of middle England (Mr Paterson’s constituency, North Shropshire, has voted Tory every time it has been asked since  1832), it is near impossible to find a voice that agrees with him. And not St Alkmund’s vicar, for a start.

“I haven’t discussed it with local people, so I only speak for myself, but I would say yes,” Canon Judy Hunt told The Independent. “I would like to affirm stable gay relationships. Gay couples are right to want to get married in church. Many heterosexual, but largely non-religious, couples want to get married in church because they feel a spiritual connection, that they might not understand, or know how to explain, but they feel it. Many gay couples might feel exactly the same, and many of them are committed Christians.

“There are some difficulties. There would have to be changes. The service can’t be exactly the same, much like the service that ordains women priests had to be changed, but it can still be equal. There is very little about it in the Bible, but there are those who say that marriage must be between a man and a woman. I wish we could find a new, but equal, word for that between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. not a civil partnership because that’s a different entity. I wish different didn’t have to mean better or worse.

“Whitchurch is a town, she says, where “people just let people get on with things”.  She adds: “They don’t seek to make things an issue. I’ve met a few gay couples. I’ve never heard of any prejudice.”

If there are those of Mr Paterson’s persuasion in the town, they were not around yesterday afternoon. Not in the butchers, not at the gift shop, not in the antiques or carpet shops, or the town’s many pubs and cafés.

“I don’t have an opinion either way,” said Martin Cox, the owner of the White Bear pub in the town centre. “I’m from this town, and I think it’s pretty liberal. I’ve never been aware of any prejudice. We welcome the money over the bar, whether it’s gay or straight.”

It is a sentiment echoed by his customers. “Time’s moved on hasn’t it,” was a commonly expressed sentiment. “People have just got to be left to get on with their life.”

While those stridently opposed to gay marriage may be more reluctant to air their views in public for risk of being labelled a bigot, the Whitchurch locals approached by The Independent yesterday were affronted by any suggestion that – as residents of a rural market town – they might be slower to embrace changing social trends.

“There’s always weddings up at that church,” said Alice Sutton, walking her dog past the clock in the tiny square. “Some of them look so lovely. Not very nice if someone can have it, and someone else can’t. I don’t think anyone would mind in the slightest. And if they did, well they’re just wrong aren’t they?”

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried