Until yesterday, I had never sat through an entire House of Lords debate. The business discussed in that house seeming almost irrelevant to my personal or the general news agenda. However, yesterday, while peers debated former police chief Lord Dear's amendment to reject the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill, the House of Lords seemed acutely relevant to the future of my entire personal life, and, I know, to tens of thousands of other people's lives too.
The reason that I know that it is relevant to thousands of people because in the past few days nearly 12,000 communications to peers from the supporters of same-sex marriage have been sent electronically using Out4Marriage's LobbyaLord website. The supporters of equality armed with some clever coders and some cheap web hosting are proving that you don't need to pay a peer £12,000 a month to lobby for you, good old email can do it just as well.
The Lords, unlike the Commons, is an ill understood and poorly thought-of institution. Its ways are opaque, its members unaccountable to the public, who barely even know who they are. On Friday though that suddenly changed, 31 people posted on Twitter that they had 'lobbied' Baroness Eccles of Moulton, someone I'd never heard of before. Given that she has voted strongly against gay rights in the past, it is unlikely to change her mind, but the fact that ordinary people have sent dozens of message to literally every peer means that it is impossible for any of our unelected representatives to legitimately claim 'I've had no one write to me who supports same-sex marriage'.
Some peers have been receptive. I've been forwarded dozens of responses from members of the House of Lords declaring for the first time that they support equality for gay couples. Many of them appeared frankly surprised to have been sent an email by a young, digitally savvy member of the public.
The only problem that we've encountered is that around a third of peers don't actually have their own email addresses. For these, we are forced to forward them to a central address that distributes them via snailmail. If however, our users send the same message to six or more peers without an email address, then all of their communications are deleted. It does seem odd that some of those who can claim up to £300 a day to represent the public aren't contactable by email directly.
While the House of Lords reforms continue to sit on the shelf, a simple website, built by people who just want to get married, has shown that it is possible to inject a bit of new life and relevancy into a dated and stuffy institution. Assuming, that is, they bother to open their mail...