Frequently asked questions:
Councillor Christina Summers
civil marriage vote at Brighton & Hove Council
There has been extensive comment in local, national and social media about Green city councillor Christina Summers and how the Green Party is responding to her vote against same-sex civil marriage in a recent Brighton & Hove City Council motion.
There have been many inaccuracies circulating – for example that Councillor Summers will be expelled from the Green Party. This is untrue. Please find below some frequently asked questions about the case to help understanding of the issues.
The answers provided here are the facts in the public domain and do not reflect decisions taken by the Inquiry Panel which at the moment remain confidential to the panel. These decisions may affect the scope, process and outcome of the Inquiry.
Q1. What’s this all about?
A1. At a full meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council on July 19th, 2012, Labour councillors, supported by all parties, put forward a motion calling on the UK government to permit same-sex civil marriage in law, which reflected the Green Party’s long-held policy on equal marriage. Councillor Summers, a Green councillor, spoke and voted against the motion. This action in itself did not breach any rules of conduct, even though she was opposing Green Party policy, as she made it plain that she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of the party. However, some councillors felt there may be a conflict between Councillor Summers’ stated position in the council chamber and her earlier stated position (see Answer 5 below) when she stood for selection as a Green Party candidate and for public office as a Green Party councillor, and so called for a Panel of Inquiry to look into the matter.
Her vote had no effect on the motion’s outcome as she was the only councillor who voted against it.
Q2. What is this Panel of Inquiry? Who’s on it?
A2. It’s an internal panel set out by the party’s constitution and it includes representation from the party’s councillors and party officers. Any member of the party is entitled to call for such a Panel of Inquiry and the party is obliged to establish one if there are sufficient numbers calling for it.
Q3. What does the Panel do? Does Councillor Summers face expulsion, as claimed?
A3. The Panel has not yet reached a conclusion but Councillor Summers does not face expulsion from the Green Party: media statements to the effect that the Inquiry may ‘eject’ Councillor Summers from the party are incorrect and misleading. The Panel may decide to take no action but should it decide further action is required, it has a variety of options, including, for example, writing to Councillor Summers or seeking mediation between the councillor and those who’ve expressed concerns. It may also recommend exclusion of a councillor from membership of the Green Group of councillors, effectively making that person an independent councillor, though still a member of the party. As an independent, a councillor would still be able to serve out the remainder of their elected term of office, to vote with or against the Greens as they choose and to stand again as a councillor at the next election. The Panel has no power to remove anyone from the party or to remove anyone as a city councillor.
Q4. If the Panel can’t expel Councillor Summers from the Green Party, what is the point of the Panel?
A4. As explained, the Panel is set up to inquire into the circumstances and make recommendations, with options including mediation and the exclusion of a councillor from the Green Group of councillors. This has important political consequences as an excluded councillor would no longer be part of the administration of the council.
Q5. Why is there an Inquiry just because Councillor Summers spoke against Green Party policy? What’s happened to free speech?
A5. The Inquiry is not about Councillor Summers’ right to voice her beliefs. The Green Party is a fierce defender of free speech and freedom of beliefs. Indeed, Green Council Leader Jason Kitcat highlighted Councillor Summers’ right to freedom of expression in his response at the same meeting and the party has since made a public statement to the same effect, so speaking and voting against policy would not, of itself, be a matter for an internal inquiry. Cllr Summers is not the first to do so and will not be the last.
Rather, the Inquiry is actually examining the facts around Councillor Summers’ recently revealed opposition to equal marriage in the context of a written undertaking she’d previously made to “upholding and advancing” the values of “equality for all people, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice … if selected as a candidate and if elected to public office.”
Q6. Is Councillor Summers right to complain about a ‘vicious’ Green response?
A6. The party has very clear constitutional safeguards to guide how we resolve disagreements as well as a strong culture of respecting difference and encouraging debate. The party strives to be fair and transparent in all its workings, including its statements and comments in regard to Councillor Summers. Individual party members, however, may choose to say what they wish in their own blogs, tweets or other comments, provided they don’t claim to speak officially for the party. They are citizens with their own freedom of thought and speech, just as Councillor Summers has freedom of thought and speech. However, the Party will investigate anything that appears to bring the party’s reputation into disrepute.
Q7. Was it necessary to summon Councillor Summers before the Panel?
A7. Councillor Summers was not summoned or called before the Panel. She was invited to meet with Panel members, should she wish to do so, and to say whatever she wished to say in the meeting. She accepted this invitation and attended in mid-August 2012 with her pastor. What she and Panel members said is confidential to the participants.
Q8. How did the Green Party manage to select an electoral candidate with views on a specific issue so different to Green Party policy?
A8. We have a robust and democratic selection process open to all local party members, who have an opportunity to scrutinise candidates’ views and ask them questions before voting by secret ballot. Candidates are also asked to sign a commitment to uphold and advance the party’s stated values (see Answer 5 above). The process was followed during Councillor Summers’ selection, as for all candidates.
Q9. How has the Green Party allowed a Green councillor to speak and vote against equal rights?
A9. The Green Party is proud of its commitment not to follow the tradition of ‘whipping’ that’s maintained by the other parties, and the Green Party thereby offers its elected representatives the freedom to express their views and vote with their consciences. (Imagine the outcome for, say, the UK decision on the Iraq War had the other parties had a similarly enlightened policy in Parliament.) Councillor Summers was free to speak and vote against party policy provided she made it plain (as she did) that she was speaking for herself and not the party and that she put forward the party view as well. But, as explained, it is not these actions that are at the heart of the Inquiry: it is, rather, the question of whether there is a conflict between Cllr Summers’ stated position when she stood as a candidate for office and her subsequently stated position in the council chamber.
Q10. Why should I continue to support the Green Party after one of its councillors has opposed equal marriage?
A10. The Green Party was the first mainstream UK party to support equal marriage, when other parties were still uncertain about introducing even civil partnerships for same sex couples. The party remains as committed as ever, and one individual’s lone position does not alter the policies or commitments of either the Green Party or the other Green councillors who voted in the council chamber for equal marriage.
Q11. What does this issue say to people of faith? Are people of faith welcome in the Green Party?A11. The Green Party has many practising Christians and people of many other faiths in its membership, including several Brighton and Hove Green Councillors and members of the national party leadership. As explained above, the party has a long tradition of welcoming differing views. Not all people of faith hold the same views on policy matters. The Green Party continues to provide a welcoming home to people of faith as well as to those who do not follow any faith.
Q12. Will Councillor Summers get a fair hearing? Opposition parties are using phrases such as ‘witch-hunt’ and ‘kangaroo court’.
A12. It’s to be expected that opposition parties (and some media) will seek to make political capital out of the Inquiry but, in fact, the Inquiry process is a long-standing one, laid down in the party’s constitution and designed to ensure a fair hearing for everyone affected.
Q13. Why doesn’t the Green Party simply respect Councillor Summers’ views and allow her to get on with it?
A13. The party has made it clear that we respect her right to hold her views, though they are not the policy of the party. However, as explained in Answer 5 above, this is not the issue.
Q14. How does Councillor Summers square her commitment to equalities and her opposition to equal marriage?
A14. That is a question for Councillor Summers, though she has told the media: “I do not agree that disagreeing with same-sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all” and in her council speech she affirmed her support for same-sex civil partnerships while opposing same-sex civil marriage.
Q15. If Councillor Summers is so opposed to a long-standing Green Party policy, why is she a member in the first place or why doesn’t she now just resign?
A15. That is for Councillor Summers to answer.
Q16. How long will the Inquiry last?
A16. The Inquiry Panel has made it clear that it would like to resolve matters as soon as it is able but it must also act responsibly, according to the constitution, and its meetings are subject to the availability of the Panel members and anyone invited to meet the Panel. This is why the process, which began in late July 2012, is lasting weeks, rather than days. However, it is expected to report in the first half of September 2012.
 By ‘equal marriage’ we mean, in a nutshell, that marriage should be available to all on an equal basis, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice. Equality for all is a fundamental party tenet and support for same-sex marriage is a long-held party policy; indeed the Green Party was the first national political party to support it.
 A webcast of the motion and debate is at http://www.brighton-hove.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/84272 . The debate starts at 4.44.35 and Councillor Summers’ speech is at 4.48.05
 Also misleading, in our view, was a statement by Councillor Summers’ adviser, the lawyer Andrea Minichiello Williams, who told the media:
“For a party that prides itself on equality, it is deeply ironic that it seeks to remove Christina Summers for her views on marriage.” She then said: “Hauling a councillor before a disciplinary panel for expressing her view on marriage in a free vote is unprincipled and unfair. What kind of freedom is it if someone is investigated for expressing a different opinion?”
As explained in this Q&A and other party statements, these are not the reasons the Panel of Inquiry was established and we believe it is unhelpful for commentators to attempt to portray the matter in this way.
 Councillor Kitcat said: “I respect every member’s right to freedom of expression in this chamber. We are also all free to disagree.”
 The Party has made clear its stance on free speech and its respect for Councillor Summers’ position, publicly stating:
“ Councillor Summers takes a position of conscience about religious marriage, based on her faith. She has every right to express those beliefs and the Green Party absolutely respects everybody’s right to freedom of beliefs and freedom of speech.”