There are some political issues that are matters of conscience and principle. Traditionally they are free vote issues. Of course as the House of Commons increasingly reflects the country we represent, the majority would tend to vote according to the wishes of the majority of the population, at least in theory. For some of us, as society becomes increasingly secular, people of faith can become a minority, rather like getting stranded on a rocky outcrop when the tide comes in unexpectedly.
The news this week that my government is proposing to make it easier to switch gender falls into this category. The Education Secretary appears to be recommending that people wishing to switch their gender would need less in the way of medical evidence and support. The media are billing this as each of us being able to choose our gender.
This strikes at the very heart of our individual identity. Some people (a tiny minority) do seem to have been born in the “wrong body” and I am extremely sympathetic to that. Nobody would choose to go through gender re-alignment if it was not something they had wrestled with from an early age.
I have been involved in two cases of gender disorientation during my 25 years as an MP. In one case the constituent was allowed to change from male to female and it turned out disastrously for him and his family. I formed the view that the real issue was mental health rather than gender alignment, and sadly that is now recognised.
In the second case, I do not know the outcome, but in discussing the speed of the process with the specialist doctor, she was firmly of the view that a cautious approach in every case was essential and maximum medical input at every stage of the transition was necessary. I have always allowed her wise words to guide me in my approach to this very delicate subject. Any movement towards gender change should be with maximum input from medical experts and psychiatric support. In other words more caution, not less.
The government appears to be headed in the opposite direction. I cannot go with it.
I will not vote to make the transition easier, because it must happen with the upmost caution. I accept that I might have been left behind by significant societal change. But if we do not follow our conscience on issues as big as this, what are we?