Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, we come back to the Bill. This is a Bill that divides friends, families, political parties, different faiths and, indeed, the Church of England. The problem seems to be that there are different views on what the word marriage means and what it stands for. To many it is an adjective that describes an event—not necessarily a religious event—that takes place in a register office, on a lawn, on a beach, in a hotel or, I am told, even in a swimming pool. Sometimes it is a religious event in a church. Sometimes it is the only occasion on which the couple actually go to church. Sometimes the couple already have children or have been married before or are of different religious faiths. Thus the word marriage is used by many different people to describe many different types of event.
There are also those who believe that marriage is a sacred religious ceremony and that marriage must be between a man and a woman for the procreation of children. Therefore, we have different groups of people using the same word in different contexts. That is the fundamental issue that divides us and causes us concern today.
It is a difficult issue. Was there a huge clamour for the Bill? No, it came only from a few. Most affected seemed happy with civil partnerships. Was it sensible to introduce it as a government Bill? That will be debated, I suspect, for many months. However, we have a Bill that has gone through another place and arrived in this House, and we have to deal with it.
I understand those who have strong feelings against the Bill, but I will make one important point. I understand and sympathise with those who want to get married but feel excluded by their church. It happened to me. Some 37 years ago I went to see our local vicar to arrange my marriage. I told him that my future wife was a Roman Catholic. He said that that did not matter and that we could go ahead. Then I then told him that she had been married before and had two small children. He immediately withdrew his offer of marriage and rather reluctantly offered a service of blessing. I felt upset and excluded. The Roman Catholic Church offered my wife an annulment, and said that it would then be happy to conduct the marriage. It seemed odd to have an annulment when one already had two children. Luckily, the Church of Scotland came to our rescue and we were duly married. Now the Church of England has changed its rules so that divorcees can marry. The church has evolved. It has changed its view on this and on many other issues. We now have women priests, and perhaps one day we will have women bishops.
Where do I stand in this debate? To many the Bill is welcome. We must not forget that there are a substantial number of children living with same-sex couples who want their parents to have the full recognition of marriage and the protection that that gives the family. Then we have the contrary view. To many, this Bill is divisive and unnecessary. As a Conservative, I believe in freedom and tolerance—two aspects not always very relevant in many marriages. “Compromise” might be the term most popular in my marriage, as I always seem to be the one who is compromising.
The churches and other faiths should be able to decide whether or not they want to have same-sex marriage ceremonies in their church. It should be up to them. It should not be imposed by the state. If they do not wish to conduct the ceremony, they should not be forced to. The strong and clear clauses in the Bill provide for that protection. I have listened to those who claim that the European Court of Human Rights might overrule British law. If it does, I would be delighted, as then we could all agree to leave this outdated and flawed institution that has allowed so many dangerous terrorists to remain in this country.
Therefore, I support the Second Reading of the Bill. More importantly, it would be quite wrong and highly damaging to the reputation of the House not to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee, where all the arguments for and against can be fully debated. We are a revising Chamber. We have an absolute right to send an amended Bill back to another place—but after debate, Report and Third Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, said the Bill would, “take up valuable time”. I say to the noble Lord that we have the time, and I am sorry that he has not got the time to deal with the many complex clauses and issues in the Bill.
To reject a Bill on Second Reading that has been passed by another place—however strong the opinions—would have a grave knock-on effect on the relationship between the two Houses. Rejection at Second Reading has occurred occasionally, but it is against the traditions of the House and has happened very rarely. We must give the Bill a Second Reading. If we do not, we would be seen as undemocratic and not as the guardian of democracy, which is how we are now often seen. If we did not accept the Bill, we would hasten the threatened changes to the nature and composition of the House, against which so many of us have fought for so long.
I will continue in a similar vein. Regrettably, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is not with us. I had a number of letters from him seeking to persuade me to his view, that I should vote for what I now see as his wrecking amendment to the Bill, even though the Bill had been adopted by a very sizeable majority in the elected Chamber and, unusually, on a cross-party basis and without the normal, formal whipping taking place.
It is true that there was not any mention of this legislation in any of the parties’ manifestos, but that is not necessarily unusual. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, pointed out, we recently dealt with a major piece of legislation relating to the National Health Service and social care. There was no mention of that in anybody’s manifesto, but such a major change none the less came through to us. In many respects the changes emanating from that may have an even greater effect on society at the moment than what will emanate from the legislation before us today.
I suspect also that many of the people who may be tempted to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, voted for legislation—the Care Bill—that had not been in any manifesto. I hope that they will weigh those issues up in their heads before they decide whether they move forward. Also, had the House of Lords Reform Bill come up from the Commons, even though such an attempt to move towards a more democratic Chamber had been in all the parties’ manifestos, I rather suspect that there would have been a majority of noble Lords still opposing it. Overall, we should be prepared to dismiss the argument that this is undemocratic and has not gone through the proper procedures, and move on to Committee and start to examine it.
I will be brief because such magnificent speeches have been made already from different points of view, but particularly in support of the Bill. I am generally in favour of it. I have been married for nearly 47 years—sometimes on a rollercoaster, but protected from strain on the journey together mainly because I was in a marriage. I am strongly in favour if it—and in favour of it for all, regardless of gender. I believe that there should be equal treatment before the law and, even more importantly, equal treatment before God.
On the general social good side, to which the most reverend Primate referred, research shows that marriage encourages and strengthens lifelong relationships and makes for a better society—it is particularly important for this. It is better for families and for individuals. If we accept that, surely we should do everything that we can to encourage more marriage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, argued, rather than oppose this extension of marriage, and possibly create different groupings within it, which may bring difficulties.
I accept that equal marriage will change marriage to a degree. We would be misleading ourselves if we thought that everything would be precisely the same in future. It will not—it will change. But as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, so ably demonstrated in his contribution, there have been many changes to marriage over the generations, and this is just one on the route as we move forward. Overall, it will have a positive impact on society, and it will strengthen and encourage lifelong relationships and commitments.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, listed what he believed were the ingredients for a successful marriage. I boiled down the items he listed to two major ones. Love and tolerance are the essence, as I see it, of a successful marriage—to which, from my own experience, I would add faith. I was interested to hear the most reverend Primate say at the beginning that this is not a faith issue but concerns general social good. I would argue that that is not so and that the principal churches in the country are holding back in an area where they should be moving forward. I trust that in due course they will move forward to embrace the totality of the population who come under God’s guidance and leadership.
We should have faith that we can get this Bill right—and faith, too, that the changes will make for a better society in future. As I prayed with my wife this morning, I asked what Jesus Christ would do. If he was here today, which way would he vote, and would he cast the first stone?
My Lords, as I have studied the development of this Bill thus far, I have been profoundly alarmed by the violations of constitutional due process that seem to have accompanied it at every turn. I firmly believe, given the four recent precedents for this House rejecting a Bill approved in another place on a free vote—the two war crimes Bills, the sexual offence Bill and Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill)—which were backed by the 2006 Joint Committee on Conventions report, that it is both consistent with our role as a revising Chamber and indeed an established expression of it for us to support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, today.
In my brief contribution, I would like to focus on three particular points. First, I would like to highlight how no Member of the other place has an electoral mandate to redefine marriage. Secondly, I will consider the shameful consultation which the Government conducted on this issue. Thirdly, I will look at how the Bill so far has not received effective scrutiny.
No Member of the other place has an electoral mandate to redefine marriage. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Prime Minister and of many Members of the other place in supporting the redefinition of marriage, but the fact is that no member of the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats or Labour Party has any mandate to introduce this change. There was no Green Paper; there was no White Paper. It was not in the Queen’s Speech; it was not in any party’s manifesto. In certain cases, if the change is minor, uncontroversial or in response to an unanticipated security crisis, it may possibly be appropriate to bring forward a legislative change without a mandate. That, patently, is not the case with the Bill before us today, which proposes changing a key social definition at the heart of our society that has been defined one way for millennia. It is quite extraordinary to me that any Government should ever dream of making such a change without a manifesto mandate, the denial of which demonstrates no regard for the electorate.
Regardless of our views on same-sex marriage, I think that we would all agree that the consultation on the introduction of same-sex marriage has been seriously deficient. Initially, the Government said that the consultation was about how to redefine marriage rather than whether or not it was actually a good idea to do so. However, the consultation did eventually include a “whether” question after an outcry from opponents of the proposals. When the Government agreed to include the whether question, the Coalition for Marriage asked whether petition signatories could be counted as submissions to the consultation, as endorsement of the petition had the effect of answering question 1 of the consultation. It was told yes, and on this basis opponents of redefinition were not advised that they needed to make a separate submission to the consultation, and on this basis many thousands did not do so.
When the Government published their response to the consultation, they said that, while of course they would have regard for the petition, they would not count it as part of the consultation, enabling them to claim a narrow majority in favour of redefining marriage. The fact that the Government thereby excluded the views of half a million people despite the assurance that had been given has been a cause of real fury, completely alienating many people from the political process. I find it remarkable that the Government thought that it was acceptable to exclude those people from the consultation, which would have found that more than 80% of submissions were opposed to the plan, if they had been included.
It is also important to highlight the fact that the Government were absolutely firm in the consultation document that same-sex weddings would not be allowed on religious premises. Those who actually managed to get a response registered to the consultation, relying in good faith on the Government’s assurances about religious premises, found that the Government’s final proposals were radically different from those on which they had consulted. Shortly before Christmas, the Government announced a major policy U-turn: same-sex ceremonies will after all be introduced in churches as well as in civil settings.
Next, we must have regard for what happened in the other place. The Government ensured that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was committed to a Public Bill Committee, even though the serious and contentious issues involved in this Bill warranted a Committee on the Floor of the House. The Public Bill Committee was made up of 15 MPs who had voted for the legislation at Second Reading and only four who had voted against. After about 10 hours of evidence sessions, MPs went on to consider the details of the Bill for just less than 20 hours. In contrast, the Hunting Bill was considered for more than 80 hours in the Public Bill Committee. This included recommittal to a Standing Committee after one day of Report. One could go on and on about the time given to debate. At the conclusion of its Commons stages, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill had received approximately 49 hours of consideration. By contrast, the 2002-03 hunting legislation received twice as much scrutiny, being debated for 97 hours altogether. It seems clear to me that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill simply has not received the level of scrutiny in the House of Commons that is appropriate for such contentious legislation.
Finally, much more could be said about the lack of respect for constitutional due process that has accompanied this Bill on its journey so far. However, now that the Bill has reached your Lordships’ House—a Chamber that, happily, the Executive do not control to quite the same extent—there is an opportunity for things to take a different course. I firmly believe that the only failing to date was the failing to have a manifesto mandate, and it is our responsibility as a revising Chamber, in line with recent precedent and the Joint Committee on Conventions ruling, to vote no today and ask the Government to think again. Those parties committed to redefining marriage can place this commitment in their 2015 manifestos and proceed in the usual manner, if they receive the appropriate mandate.
I encourage all Members of this House to support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, not in the interest of being for or against a particular definition of marriage but in the interest of upholding and protecting constitutional due process.
My Lords, we have been told by many speakers in this debate that the Bill is all about equality. People must be treated equally and Parliament must ensure it. The first statement is reasonable; the second is not. Certainly we are all equal before the law, but a far higher authority than even anyone here has already decided that people are not equal. Some are stronger, cleverer, lazier, plainer or better-looking than others. Some people can see, while others are blind. If anyone brings a Bill to this House to change that, I will be the first in the Lobby to vote for it; but no Bill can change that.
This Bill ignores a fact well understood for centuries: marriage is not just about love. Of course, homosexuals are often very delightful, artistic and loving people. No one doubts that for one single moment. However, marriage is not just about love. It is about a man and a woman, themselves created to produce children, producing children. A man can no more bear a child than a woman can produce sperm. No law on earth can change that. This is not a homophobic view. It may be sad, it may be unequal, but it is true. This Bill is either trying to pretend that it can change men into women, or vice versa, or telling us that children do not need a father and a mother and that a secure framework for children to be brought up in is not really important any more.
There is more mischief here. A free and just country must allow its people to live according to their consciences. We may not agree with their views—that does not matter at all—but they have a right to follow them and live by them. Year by year in Britain, this right is being eroded. The Government assure us that no church and no person will be forced to act against their conscience by this Bill. Did nobody notice, in earlier debates in the other place, that the Government disallowed any amendment that would protect the right to a conscience? It was all going to be fine and dandy because nobody would be forced to do anything that they did not want to do. However, promises of this kind have been made and broken so many times that we know they are false. It is not fine and dandy. These promises cannot be alone in all the promises that have been made over all the years and proved to be false.
As long ago as 1967, nurses and doctors were told that those against terminations would not be forced to do abortions. Then what happened? They could not get a job. Only last month there were press reports of a court case brought by midwives, still fighting after nearly 50 years for the rights that they were promised and never received. Christian teachers now tell us that this Bill will force them to teach homosexuality, entirely against their conscience. Registrars will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages; in fact, several of them have been sacked already because they have said that their conscience was against doing so. That no longer seems to matter. However, to me, it matters a very great deal.
You have to close your bed and breakfast if you will not accept gay couples, although pubs can refuse to serve customers—I do not understand that. You will be sacked from your job if you wear a cross—even a teeny-weeny one. Catholic adoption agencies, as has been mentioned today, have all been closed because they no longer have the right to follow their teaching, despite earlier assurances that they would be allowed to do so. We should watch how much the law of conscience, and each person having a right to it, has been quietly, piece by piece, disappearing. This is a bad Bill, built on lies, and I shall vote against it.
My Lords, first, I take this opportunity to thank the very many members of the public who have taken the trouble to write to me on this topic. Clearly there is much to be said on both sides of the argument. Feelings and emotions are very strong in both directions. To those I have not been able to respond to by now, I apologise. However, their correspondence has prompted me to speak, as well as vote, even though so many of your Lordships are also down to participate.
Do I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear? The degree of change envisaged in the Bill to the concepts of marriage—both contemporary and historical concepts—is far more than a mere expansion of meaning on the grounds of equality of treatment. Supportive and caring relationships between two individuals may well be as similar in same-sex as in opposite-sex unions and, of course, are to be welcomed. However, there the similarity or equality ends. Part of the traditional meaning of marriage embraces its consequences—the consequences of sexual intercourse and of procreation, to say nothing of the concepts of adultery or non-consummation. Marriage is far more than a wedding day, an exchange of vows, the honeymoon and mutual support. I know; I have been married happily for 58 years and have children and grandchildren. So I think it is a travesty of interpretation to claim that marriage under this Bill and traditional marriage are so similar as to be categorised and recorded by lexicon as the same.
What has had less emphasis in much of the discussion of this Bill is the issue of unintended consequences if it were to pass into law. Marriage rights have been abused, for example, by foreigners who seek to gain permanent right of abode in this country by contracting a sham heterosexual marriage with a resident. Is there anything in this Bill to prevent same-sex individuals from abusing these proposed new arrangements in this way, or a priest from offering his services for payment or being bribed to enable a same-sex couple to obtain a marriage, a union of convenience and thus to gain residence for both in England or Wales?
How soon might we see an individual claiming that his human rights are being denied because being married to a man does not allow him the same conjugal rights as if he were married to a woman? Therefore, he might argue, why should he not be allowed to be married both to another man and also—not alternatively—to a woman? It might not be a much greater step beyond that for individuals to argue that a threesome or foursome union would more suit their shared and mutual feelings of love and commitment. Could that, too, be called a marriage?
How much further away from the canon laws that prohibit near relatives from marriages between opposite sexes will the proposals for same-sex unions be compared and allowed to depart? Will the canon laws themselves, in turn, be challenged? Such laws do not have the same rationale in same-sex unions. Where is the equality in that? What would be the financial implications of such extensions to marriage so far as the Treasury is concerned?
Should not all of these and many more unintended consequences of this rushed and, I fear, ill conceived Bill give this House pause for thought and sound reason to discard it now? I strongly endorse the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, I am a passionate supporter of the Bill. I support it because I believe in the institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of society and should be open to all. I support it because I believe in the values of the family, and the Bill will, in my view, strengthen them. I support it because I am a Conservative. Respect for individual liberty is at the core of my being and this is a Bill that will add to the sum of human freedom. I support it because I am a Christian and I believe we are all equal in the eyes of God, and should be so under man’s laws. I support it because I am one of those people who I fear were rather glibly derided by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as being part of a tiny minority and, I think, were praised by my noble friend Lady Knight as being delightful, in that I am gay. I am in a civil partnership with somebody with whom I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century. I love him very much and nothing would give me greater pride than to marry him. I hope noble Lords will forgive that personal pronouncement, but it seems to me that my experience goes to the heart of this debate.
Of course, there are strong views on both sides which I respect and the debate today has illustrated them, but by far the most important aspect of this debate are the thousands of our fellow citizens, of whom I am one, who are not yet fully equal. The Bill is about human beings, not ideology. Although some noble Lords may disagree with me when I talk about the press, I assure noble Lords that in the main I really am exactly the same as them, except that I happen to love a man. Why should I be barred from taking part in a special institution that all the rest of you can enjoy? It seems to me that that is the nub of the matter. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, contained throughout words such as “tolerate” and “toleration”. Goodness me, this is 2013. Gay people do not want to be tolerated in this society; they want to be equal in it. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege, for whom I have most enormous respect, not least for her Trojan work on osteoporosis, talks about gay people setting up different institutions. We do not want different institutions; we want the same institutions. Provided it passes, this law will accord me, for the first time in my life, complete equality and respect regardless of my sexuality for what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in an incredibly powerful speech, described as the character of love that I feel able to give. I hope so much that this House, which has always valued the sanctity of the individual, will allow that to happen.
My personal experience aside, there are two strong reasons of principle why I support the Bill. First, as a Conservative, I believe in human liberty. Some words of the great liberal thinker, J S Mill, with which I concur, are deeply relevant to this debate. He stated that,
“the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection”.
The state should interfere in people’s lives only where it is preventing harm; for example, banning smoking in public places or criminalising drugs. Marriage between two men or two women who love each other does not produce social harm. It is not endangering anyone. Why should the state actively stop it? That point was echoed in a recent interview in the New York Times with the daughter of that great Conservative icon, President Reagan, who was one of my heroes. As we know, he was a social conservative to his core, but he also respected individual liberty and, according to his daughter, would have supported equal marriage. Why would he have done so? He would have done so because of his,
“distaste for government intrusion into private lives”.
Patti Davis said that he and Nancy brought up their children to understand that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the idea that,
“some men are born wanting to love another man”.
That is quite right. If we respect individuality, the structure of our legal institutions must reflect that and it does not. The Bill puts that right by removing value judgments by the state, making the law neutral and allowing all those who want to make a lifelong, loving commitment to each other to marry.
The second reason I support the Bill is because of the power of legislation to change attitudes, something we have heard a little about. When I started in politics in the late 1980s, I learnt at the feet of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for whom I have the most extraordinary respect. At that time, most gay men had little choice but to hide their sexuality. Noble Lords should understand how souls destroying it can be to cover up an aspect of your life. The reason that young people can mostly live openly gay lives today is because legislation from this House and the House of Commons led opinion. The bold reforms of John Major’s Government, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships by the Labour Government were all in advance of mainstream opinion but have created a more inclusive, more liberal society by being so. This measure will have the same impact. Young gay people at school or university, battling with their consciences as well as, still too often, prejudice, will look to Parliament and see that in the eyes of the UK’s lawmakers they are treated with respect, dignity and equality. As the Prime Minister rightly put it, they will stand taller as a result of our actions. I pay tribute to his huge courage in bringing forward the Bill in the face of much prejudice and misinformation.
I conclude with this thought. The day my partner and I entered a civil partnership in 2006 was immensely special. It produced a tangible strengthening and deepening of our relationship in a way that I did not believe was possible. People sometimes ask me, “Isn’t that enough?”, and we have heard echoes of that today. Why cannot gay people be happy with what we have already been granted? My answer is that it was the experience of civil partnership which convinced me of the need to go further. If a civil ceremony can produce such a deep change in the relationship between two people, imagine what a proper marriage, morally equal in the eyes of one’s family and friends, could do. That is why I can put my hand on my heart and tell noble Lords that this measure will not undermine marriage, it will strengthen it. It will not undermine the family, it will strengthen it. I know that to be true because I have felt it. That is why I beseech noble Lords to join me tomorrow in voting to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, that is a very moving speech to follow. I have great difficulty with the Bill, over which I have anguished. However, for the constitutional reason set out by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I shall vote for its Second Reading and for it to go into Committee.
The truth is that I cannot get my head round two people of the same sex being in a relationship defined as a marriage, however much they love each other. I hold to a simple traditional view that the word “marriage” can apply only in heterosexual relationships. I need to make it absolutely clear that, as a Labour Peer, I have always supported equality for gay men and women. I have voted repeatedly and consistently over 30 years for the developing gay agenda. I have a whole file of letters from Stonewall and others thanking me for my support as each and every measure has been brought before Parliament. I have huge admiration for Peter Tatchell’s drive and courage, and will never forget the experience of knocking on doors in the Bermondsey by-election some 30 years ago when he was the subject of a vitriolic gay-bashing campaign run by the then Liberal Party. We have come a long way since then.
My problem is over the use of the word “marriage”. I see it as distinct from civil partnership. I have no problem with the union between two persons of the same sex being given full recognition before God and being blessed in church or wherever. I have no problem with pension-splitting, inheritance tax management or anything that seeks equality with heterosexual couples, provided that we have safeguards against abuse just as we have under current marriage arrangements. Furthermore, I do not want to test the patience of the House by repeating arguments that have already been made on the need to maintain a distinction between marriage and civil partnership.
However, I need to call in aid speeches made by two Members of the other House, both leading gay rights campaigners, during the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. The first was by Alan Duncan MP, who stated from the Conservative Front Bench, when defining the distinction between marriage and civil partnership, that,
“the two institutions are designed on similar lines, but they are designed on parallel lines; and parallel lines, as we all know, never meet. They are separate institutions for different groups of people. Gay men and lesbians are different precisely because of who they love, so the formal recognition of that love will itself create differences”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 184.]
He went on to argue further that,
“the clear distinction between a civil … partnership and the institution of marriage will, in my view, be preserved”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 185.]
So when he was considering that Bill he recognised the validity of the distinction that I believe in.
Then we have the comments of Chris Bryant MP in the same debate, who said:
“I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 228.]
Later, on Report, Chris Bryant, who has led the campaign on these matters in the other House, made himself absolutely clear when he stated that,
“I believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/11/04; col. 810.]
For some reason, he has changed his mind over the past eight years but his position then is my position now. We are arguing over the use of a word—an argument that we thought was settled in 2004 when we approved the Civil Partnership Bill. Some of us want to retain the word for heterosexual unions, maintaining the distinction. Others want to fuse the two and end the distinction. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, earlier.
I will support the Bill going into Committee. The Bill is not a manifesto Bill but a free-vote Bill, and was carried by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. Two-thirds of the House of Commons voted for it, one of the biggest majorities in years. It was sent to us to be scrutinised—not blocked or destroyed. It would be a complete betrayal of our responsibilities if this unelected House, where we all sit by way of patronage, was to block a Bill carried on a free vote in the elected House of Commons on the scale that it was a month ago. Our role is to revise Bills, not kill Bills, and I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, not to push his amendment to the vote.
My Lords, I happen to be gay. I was made this way. It is something I share with hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who are worthwhile, virtuous, hard-working, responsible, loving members of society. It is also, incidentally, why I am the honorary vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. I am also a Christian and I believe in a loving, accepting, generous God who wants to include people, not reject them. I was in a civil partnership and I know that civil partnership confers nearly all the shared rights and responsibilities that marriage does, but it is not the same. It is not equality: it does not carry the same significance or symbolism and it still labels lesbian and gay relationships as somehow just a little second-class.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke about the speeches made by Alan Duncan and Chris Bryant when civil partnership legislation passed through the House of Commons. Yes, some people—many people—have changed their minds since then. They have done so because of two things. First, it is because society has moved and changed. The attitude from an overwhelming range of our society, especially among young people, has moved on even since eight years ago. Secondly, the success of civil partnerships themselves has demonstrated that where loving commitment can be made and recognised it is to be celebrated and welcomed by society. Some of the things that have been said in the course of public discussion by some—though certainly by no means all—opponents of this Bill have, I fear, been mistaken, misguided and, sometimes, rather hurtful. This has reinforced my view that this change is sorely needed.
I want to make three brief points. First, quite simply, this is about love, commitment and mutual respect. It is about two people wanting to commit themselves to each other and to demonstrate the strength of that commitment to the world. This is something to celebrate, surely, not to reject; to welcome and endorse, not to sideline. To vote against the Bill is, effectively, to say that two people, two members of our human family, cannot be allowed the full flowering of the expression of their love for each other. I ask those arguing against the Bill to think for just a moment about the hurtfulness of what they are doing by saying that.
Secondly, the Bill respects the rights of religious organisations and faiths to opt out, if they wish, of any endorsement of lesbian or gay marriage. I regret that some faith organisations take this view but I would not dream for a moment of imposing on them a requirement to conduct or celebrate something they genuinely believe to be contrary to their faith. However, I beseech them in turn: please do not dare, by voting down this Bill, to impose on me the impossibility of celebrating a commitment in the fullest way that society recognises. Deny yourselves the obligation by all means, but do not deny me the opportunity.
Thirdly, this Bill is, at heart, about a simple principle of equality and equal access to the recognition of love and the standing of loving relationships. I was proud to be part of the Government who brought in so many changes for the better for lesbians and gay men and eliminated so many discriminations and inequalities. Some hurdles remain, however, and this is the highest of them. Voting for the Bill will right a long-standing wrong. It will recognise the equal dignity and worth of all our lesbian and gay citizens. It will challenge the prejudice that is still all too prevalent in our society. It will say, quite simply, that love matters and equally so for everyone. I urge noble Lords to support the Bill.
My Lords, we have heard some very powerful and moving speeches this afternoon. I heard every one of them and I found this to be a rather emotionally draining debate. I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, and my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, and nobody could have listened to their powerful pleas without being moved by them. It is therefore all the more difficult to take a different line. I find myself very much in sympathy with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Anderson, said and, above all, with much of what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said.
There is a fundamental flaw in the Bill that arises from the manner of its introduction. Great social changes such as the abolition of the death penalty or the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on abortion have generally come about as a result of public campaigns and Private Members’ Bills in another place that have attracted the support of government. This Bill has been imposed from on high and in a way that has caused a degree of grief and anguish—I say this directly to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who also feels grief and anguish—for many of those who believe fundamentally and sincerely that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. That is not to denigrate or degrade in any way other human relationships.
I admit to your Lordships that I was one of the very few people who voted on Third Reading in another place against civil partnerships. I did so because I wanted them to be extended according to the so-called “sisters amendment” because I believed that any two people who were in a loving relationship, whether sexual or otherwise, should be able to have the benefits that civil partnerships brought to lesbian and gay people. I have moved since those days and completely accept that civil partnerships have proved to be a good thing. I welcome that, and no one could fail to be touched by what my noble friend Lord Black said about his civil partnership.
However, true equality in a free society is an equality that protects and asserts difference. Yes, as my noble friend Lady Knight said, we are all equal under the law—but we are different. Acts of Parliament—again I quote her—cannot enable a man to bear a child or a blind man to see. There are things that we therefore have to recognise as being different. What we have to aspire to is a society in which all, whether they are different by the colour of their skin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, are not only equal in the eyes of the law and in the sight of God, as they are, but are not discriminated against in any way for those differences. That is the state in which I wish to see our country.
I was much taken by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, who said that you cannot, without changing marriage beyond recognition, have marriage between same-sex partners, but you surely can have an institution that is the equivalent in every sense. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Black that civil partnerships perhaps do not quite reach that point at the moment. As a Christian who was at one stage opposed, I would welcome the blessing of a union in the church—in my church, the Anglican Church. The most reverend Primate did not go quite so far in his speech as to specifically advocate that, but its logical conclusion was that that is something to which we could and, I believe, should aspire.
If we change the institution of marriage as it is at the moment, we are not making those of the same sex who become married members of an equal institution, because they cannot be. They cannot produce children. I do not say that in any critical sense but merely as an acceptance of the fact. There is a danger that because we sympathise, as we rightly do, and because we want to see the dignity of every human being on an equal footing, we are likely to vote for something that is not in the best interests of society. As a pamphlet I received put it, this is one of the most profound pieces of social engineering ever to be put before Parliament. The changing of the definition of marriage in this way should not happen without a popular mandate. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about having a referendum on whether people want that change. There some logic in that plea. Certainly, there has not been any manifesto commitment, and although some brush that aside, it is a real point.
I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow—although I have some misgivings about having a vote—because of the plea that many of us received from colleagues in another place who said that there had not been adequate preparation and that the free vote was questionable. I know that for a fact from many who have spoken to me personally, who were rather anguished about it. I therefore will vote for the amendment tomorrow—with, as I say, some misgivings—and if the Bill is carried I will try and play a constructive part in improving it. The most reverend Primate said, just before he sat down and with much regret, that this was not a Bill that he could support. Nor can I.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my respect for the speakers who have taken different stances on the Bill, and particularly for those with whom I disagree. I accept that there are many valid reasons for Members of your Lordships’ House to put forward objections to the Bill, but I am positive that the tide of history is against the objections.
It is rather odd that I am speaking between the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Nearly 50 years ago, I sat in a room in Chester Cathedral taking my common entrance exam in order to go to Wrekin College, where the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was a teacher. We are in a different country to that of 1965. No Member of your Lordships’ House could then have made the speeches that we have heard today about being gay. When I took that exam, abortion was illegal, capital punishment was on the statute books, homosexual acts in private were matters for criminal law, and there was no race relations legislation whatever. We are in a much better country, and the tide of history is running in only one direction.
The Bill represents a great and noble cause—what the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, described as a moral cause. I suggest that, for a non-elected House to object to the Bill in this way, particularly after the events of this last weekend, would damage the reputation of this House.
My last point relates to the quadruple lock. I received many letters—as did all noble Lords—one of which I have one in my hand. It is from a young Christian gay man and it is in ink, so I cannot imagine that he sent it to 850 people, though some other noble Lords may have had it. In it he wrote that he was unable to reconcile his Christianity with his sexuality, and the fact that the Bill was being considered at all was helping him combine those two facets.
St Paul wrote to the Galatians that in Jesus Christ there is neither male or female, gentile or Jew, slave or free. I do not think that that was a coded message that everybody was okay except gays. It was an inclusive statement. As a member of the Anglican world, I hope that one day, before I die, I will see the Anglican Church unlock that quadruple lock from the inside.
My Lords, I associate myself closely with the previous speeches from these Benches but want to develop the discussion in a slightly different direction. I should emphasise that I am speaking in my personal capacity as a bishop and not, in any formal sense, on behalf of the wider Church of England.
I want to focus on the potential impact on the relationship between the Church of England and the state. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, with his great list of implications for Argentina, I wanted to leap up and say, “And we have the Church of England to think about as well, on top of all that lot”. It was an issue that did not receive much attention in the debate in the other place—hardly any at all. I say at the outset that the Church of England has no right simply to maintain the status quo in our relationship with the state; nor do we necessarily wish to do so. However, the argument that there has been change, as there has been, in church-state relationships is no argument for any particular change. The weakness in the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was that all the changes in marriage that he listed were, in themselves, no argument for the particular change that we are discussing now.
The relationship between church and state has evolved and is remarkably different now from how it was in earlier ages. Often changes happen best when they happen almost naturally, in an evolutionary sort of way—that is very much how the British constitution has developed over the years. In that process, it is always important to check that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater when a particularly striking change is being made and in this Bill, something fundamental and foundational is changing. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, but I thought he underplayed somewhat the depth of the change that we are talking about.
To me, the clue is in Clause 1(3) of the Bill to which very little attention has been paid. I believe it is unprecedented in statute law. The Submission of the Clergy Act 1533 provides that the church must not promulgate canons that are contrary to what the Explanatory Notes to the present Bill call “general law”. Arguably, the 1533 Act also lays a certain obligation on the state not to pass laws which are contrary to the received canon laws of the Church of England. That is how establishment has worked, because to do so would put the Church of England in a very difficult position. That is why Clause 1(3), on marriage, exempts our canons from the scope of the Submission of the Clergy Act. In effect, it creates an amendment to the Act without quite saying so and therefore legally permits statute law and canon law on marriage to be diametrically opposed in future on the very basic point of who can be married to whom.
In the government documents there is an attempt to draw a parallel with divorce, although that hardly applies at all because the canons of the Church of England have never forbidden divorce. There has always been a legal permission to divorce under the canons of the Church of England, and so the changes that have happened in divorce law have never come into conflict with the canons—for the very good reason that it was always permitted in statute law. It is also there in the Old and the New Testament. Therefore, this clause is unprecedented in our legislative history.
This helps us to understand why people feel so strongly, although this is one of the questions that we have not really asked. Of course, the easy answer is that they are homophobic. That is an easy dismissal than can be made, and who am I to say that this is not sometimes part of it? I cannot say that. However, I think the reason why people feel so strongly lies elsewhere. There are two roots to it. One is that marriage is given for the conception, nurture and upbringing of children—that is what it is naturally there for, as other speakers have said. I accept that other family arrangements can successfully bring up children, but there is something naturally given about marriage in relation to children. Our society has broken that connection in many ways, partly through contraception, but to break it in this radical way needs some thought.
The other reason why people feel strongly is because, in the Bible, the marriage relationship is the primary metaphor for how God relates to the world. That is in the Old and New Testament, particularly in the Old, and that is why it is a view also held strongly by Jews and Muslims, for whom the Old Testament is a sacred book. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who is not in his place, alluded to this, but did not pick up on the obvious fact that the relationship between God and the world is not symmetrical. It is not a relationship of sameness, but of difference within a deep bond of love. That is why, in that metaphor, if you try to take away the difference between man and woman, it does not work any more. It is partly why people of faith feel so strongly about this matter. There is something about “vive la différence”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, touched on so brilliantly in her speech. There is something basic about it, something visceral, which people feel is being undermined and changed, and that is why they react as they do, even if they do not quite know how to articulate it.
How should we proceed? I have come to the view that a more radical reconstruction of the law on marriage would be the right way forward. I think it would meet a lot of the issues raised in the powerful speeches that have been made. We should consider going some way towards the continental version, which has a legal, contractual relationship that is the same for everyone, absolutely without question. Then we could develop different religious understandings on top of that. That may be a bridge too far: the Government thought so when they drew up this rather rushed legislation. Several Members in the other place drew attention to this as the logical outcome of what we should be doing. Much of what we have heard today would potentially be satisfied, amid our society’s many differences, if we separated the legal contract of marriage, which the state establishes as being the same for everyone, and the religious side. I fully accept that that would have implications for establishment but there are unintended consequences of this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said, and that is just one of them. It has not been thought out and if we commit this Bill to a Committee, we are almost saying that the Bill can be improved by tinkering: it cannot. What is wrong with it is just too basic. That is why, with the same regrets that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, I shall be with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in the Division Lobby.
My Lords, I have been in Parliament for 39 years and I cannot remember an occasion when so many individuals have sent me personal letters or e-mails so strongly opposing a particular Bill.
In my brief contribution, I want to address and focus on the constitutional position. I do so from a background of five years as the 58th Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, handling an equally controversial Bill of four clauses, which took 25 days, including three or four nights, but at least on that occasion every Member had their voice—indeed, I ended up with a vote of no confidence—but thankfully it was carried with a large majority. That is what should have happened with this Bill. This is equally controversial and it should have been handled in another place on the Floor of the House so that all Members could contribute. Sadly, that route was denied them and they ended up with what I would term as a stark Chamber-type Committee, which I think is a tragedy.
Some of us are told that we should not vote on Second Reading in the upper House. I went through the whole of Erskine May but could find no reference there as to why we should not. Furthermore, we had it confirmed by the Constitution Committee here in 2006 that, where there is a free vote, we can, if we so wish, vote against Second Reading, and that is equally acceptable where there is no mandate for the Government.
I then looked as dispassionately as is possible for a parliamentarian at how much work had been done in preparing the Bill. There has been no Green Paper, no White Paper and no royal commission. Much has been done on a whim, sadly, and that is not a good start for any controversial piece of legislation. It is made even sadder by the fact that three days before the election one of the candidates for Prime Minister stated that he was “not planning” to introduce same-sex marriage.
I therefore look now at the implications of there being a Second Reading. How many of us are aware of the thousands of pieces of legislation that will have to be amended by both Houses or of the hours that will be taken up with some further primary legislation and a huge amount of secondary legislation? We all know—do we not?—in our hearts how much attention is given to secondary legislation in either the other place or here. There will not be any real debate on those parts of the legislation.
Is that fair and just to the people of this country? Personally, I do not think so, and I say that based on my parliamentary experience. We must not forget that this House is part of the bicameral Parliament and is normally there to act as a revising Chamber. However, ultimately, in my view, it is there as a safeguard to Parliament and democracy as a whole and it carries out that role for all the people of the UK. Safeguards are not met by quadruple locks. Locks can be undone by any fiendishly good legislator anywhere in the world, and there are numerous examples of that happening.
Therefore, tomorrow I shall vote against the Second Reading. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for the considered manner in which he put forward his amendment and for the clarity and courage that he showed in doing so. As I sat here this afternoon, I said a quiet, short prayer to myself: I prayed that someone somewhere was listening to the many words of wisdom that will be spoken over these two days.
My Lords, I support the Bill and oppose the amendment, and I congratulate the Government on having the courage to come forward with this legislation.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said in moving his amendment and I could not understand his justification for wishing to deny the Bill any Committee discussion. If there are problems with the Bill, surely the obvious place to sort them out is through rigorous examination in Committee.
This has been a fascinating debate with some very powerful and emotional contributions. I cannot attempt to engage in a theological debate with the right reverend Prelates—I fear that as a non-practising Jewish atheist that is probably beyond me. However, treating the matter seriously, as I do, I was interested in the idea that marriage is just one specific type of union between a man and a women and that it is for procreation, if I may paraphrase slightly. I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was right in saying that the nature of marriage has changed fundamentally since being an institution that discriminated abominably against women, giving them few or no rights whatever when it came to inheritance and even no rights over their children.
I cannot help but reflect that it has changed in relation to my own experience. I have enjoyed marriage so much that I have done it twice—and for the last time, I hope. On the second occasion, my wife wanted our marriage to take place in church and I wanted to respect her views. On that occasion in 1985, I met the rector and he was a very pleasant individual, but he said, “I’m really sorry but I cannot marry you in church because you have been divorced”. I now notice that that is no longer the case with the Church of England; it has changed its views. Fortunately, we now live in a very different society from the one that existed when marriage was first conceived. The way that society regards homosexual relationships has changed fundamentally, and we have heard some very powerful contributions about that. As I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black, I doubted whether anyone in this Chamber would have been able to make such a contribution 10 years ago. Going back further in time, Oscar Wilde—a particular favourite of mine—while in jail reflected on the temerity of being forced to admit the nature of his relationship.
I have some sympathy with the right reverend Prelates and I would not want the Bill to undermine their right to determine who gets married in church. However, they seem to have great difficulty in determining some of their attitudes, whether on homosexuality or on whether a woman should be a bishop. They are still agonising over that with different wings of the church, but their attitudes will no doubt change over time. I think that we have now reached a point in our society where same-sex marriage is right and I do not believe that it will undermine the relationship of marriage. That is the bit of the argument that I do not understand, and I could not put it any better than the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I usually find myself in opposition to him but on this occasion—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—I could not have put it any better than he did.
There has also been a lot of talk about children in marriage. I need to remind people that things are changing all the time. We now have gay couples with children—something that, again, a few years ago we would not have thought of as being a likely occurrence. Therefore, I do not believe that this legislation is going to undermine the nature of marriage, although it will not be right for every person. I have a brother who is gay. He has been in a long-term relationship over a number of years and has never expressed to me any desire to change the nature of that relationship. Therefore, marriage will not be for every gay couple, but for some it will be and the question is whether we should deny them the opportunity. I do not believe that we should. There are genuine concerns and we should ensure that we have the right to take the Bill through its Committee stage to examine very carefully whether what has been referred to as the quadruple lock will cover every eventuality. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy say that they have looked at that very carefully, and I tend—initially, at least—to respect their view, although there may of course be other views. Therefore, I support the Bill. I am opposed to the amendment and I look forward to Committee.
My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. I want to make three discrete points in this debate, which has had so many speakers and such high-running emotion. First, despite many views to the contrary, marriage is in fact a social construct. It was not always one man and one woman. Indeed, polygamy was widespread in the ancient world, and its reasons were many. To quote from the Hebrew bible, as we call the Old Testament, Solomon was reputed to have a thousand wives. I do not know how he managed. Many people will also know the story of Jacob and how he got the wrong wife first, with Rachel and Leah.
I also want to give a bit of history, which your Lordships may not know. There was a great rabbi, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, who in around 1000 CE, which we call AD, was responsible for what is known as a takkanah, a legal pronouncement which is technically valid for 1,000 years. The takkanah of his that concerns us prohibited polygamy. It applied only to Ashkenazi Jews, those in Germany, Poland and Russia and so on. The Sephardi Jews—North African, Spanish and Portuguese—continued to practise polygamy in some areas, and that continued among Yemeni Jews until the 1950s and 1960s. So for us, marriage was not always just between one man and one woman, nor was it always for the procreation of children. When Rabbenu Gershom’s takkanah ran out in around 2000, 13 years ago, you might have expected a wild rush of Ashkenazi Jewish men seeking second, third and fourth wives, but because marriage is a social construct as much as a legal one, curiously that did not happen, and we would not have wanted it to.
These days we believe in marriage between two people, not more, although serial monogamy is commonplace. Marriage has changed dramatically over the millennia and over recent centuries. Divorce, which we Jews have always accepted, has become widely accepted and no longer a disgrace; married women now have property rights, although that took its time; infertility is no longer blamed only on women—it used to be a reason for divorce in Judaism after 10 childless years; and so on. Why, then, can we not change this social construct once again, while still maintaining respect for those for whom marriage is about sacrament, but cannot accept such a change? I think it is important that we do.
Secondly, I want to say something about numbers. In my congregation at the West London Synagogue—the oldest reform synagogue in the UK—where I am senior rabbi, we have about 3,000 members. We also have around 30 gay couples, most—but not all—in civil partnerships now, waiting for the day when they can marry under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, with their parents under that canopy, witnessing them make their vows. For me and my fellow reform and liberal Jews, like the Unitarians and the Quakers, this is about parity of esteem. We see no reason why gay people should not marry as heterosexual people do. We see all human beings as made in the image of God. That means gay and straight. We also believe that human beings are created with the need to seek out and look for a helpmeet in life. That person could be of the same sex, or not. Whichever it is, they deserve the right to be able to create a life together permanently and to celebrate it in marriage.
Thirdly, as several noble Lords have said, this is about righting a wrong. It is about accepting that social conditions and attitudes change and have changed. I hope that noble Lords will accept that that is true. We have heard that no court of any kind, domestic or European, would force a religious organisation to perform such marriages against their will. But those of us in religious organisations which are in favour of equal marriage are longing for the day. I expect the first days after it becomes law, as I hope it does, to consist of marriage after marriage in my synagogue, bringing joy, equality and renewed commitment to people who, until this point, have been denied it. It needs to happen soon. It is a moral imperative to right this wrong.
My Lords, social change is often contentious and, indeed, even controversial. Looking back over the past century, I have been struck by how frequently matters that aroused heated passions when debated faded into consensus once those matters were approved, as I hope this measure will be. In other words, society was ready for the change. Perhaps I may give the House a few examples.
The death penalty was abolished in 1969. In the 1970s, it was a question that lingered on in the Conservative Party—indeed, Conservative Party selection committees generally asked a question about it. One of my former colleagues in another place even offered his services as hangman. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 caused enormous controversy at the time. Even as recently as the Equality Act, some church leaders argued for exemptions that would have allowed homosexuals to be turned away from soup kitchens and hospices.
The 1928 equal franchise Act gave women equal voting rights with men. At this distance it is a little odd to look back at some of the arguments advanced at the time, in all seriousness, against that measure. I give the House but two examples:
“women have a vast indirect influence through their menfolk”;
“Woman Suffrage tends to establish competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous considerations”.
I trust that many noble Baronesses still experience chivalrous consideration from your Lordships but would venture to suggest that this can hardly be put forward as an argument for repeal of the equal franchise Act. Indeed, I know of no serious organisation today which advocates withdrawing the vote from women, making sexual relationships between people of the same sex a criminal offence or, indeed, restoring the death penalty.
I accept, of course, the sincerity with which some Christian organisations oppose this measure. It is right that the Bill should not oblige any church to carry out same-sex marriages. However, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness, there is not complete agreement on this matter among religious groups. Quakers, liberal Jews and Unitarians support the measure, and my noble friend Lord Deben, in a characteristically thoughtful article in the Tablet, reminded his fellow Roman Catholics that for over a century it has been accepted that the state has had a role in marriage and that it could and would make its own secular rules for its citizens.
The Bill has been a useful vehicle for opening a discussion on humanist marriage. An amendment on the matter was introduced in another place but was withdrawn as the Attorney-General advised that, as drafted, it was incompatible with the Human Rights Act. I understand that subsequent discussions have ensued with the British Humanist Association, and other issues relating, for example, to the definition of premises need to be resolved. I suspect that it would probably add to the challenges before us on this Bill to attempt to address those issues now. However, I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the dialogue with the British humanists will continue in the hope that this too may be addressed at some point in the future.
Finally, some quarters have criticised the Prime Minister for his personal support of this measure. They say that it is being raised at a time when the country faces huge challenges. Frankly, I find it rather refreshing that a Prime Minister beset, as Prime Ministers are wont to be, by the great political issues of the day is willing to stand up personally and be counted on a moral issue in which he believes and where there is no obvious political payoff.
I rejoice in the fact that this measure enjoys the support of all three party leaders. I confidently expect that, if it is approved, today’s controversy will rapidly become tomorrow’s consensus.
My Lords, as speaker 31 of 94 I am already beginning to feel that most points have been made; forgive me if I repeat some of them. I am a Methodist minister, and I have the privilege of leading many couples through their vows and in a great celebration, in a liturgical way, in church. I believe in marriage. I believe that marriage is the bedrock of our society and brings stability to our communities. I believe that marriage is the best place where children can be nurtured. It is for those reasons that I support this Bill.
Like all of us, I have had many letters and e-mails on the Bill. Some have suggested that of course I will agree to support traditional marriage based on biblical principles. To one of them I am afraid I replied that I hoped he would start at the beginning of the Bible at Genesis and try to find one man and one woman in a committed relationship that had been freely chosen. He would have had an awfully long read.
There has always been the suggestion that biblical principles have been used on occasion to support the subjugation of women and the primacy of men. These are things that we have had to contend with. When the Christian church began to look at its societies and move beyond Jerusalem, it had to come to terms with the fact that it was moving into different cultures. There was always the question of whether to challenge the culture or whether to adapt the faith you have received in order to cope with the culture into which you have moved.
Today, as many have said, we are moving into a different culture and we cannot rely on the old ways, simply saying that we will remain faithful to what we once knew. Equality and freedom, life expectancy, control of reproduction and a deeper understanding of sexual orientation have all affected our understanding of what marriage truly is, as have the negative principles of marital breakdown and broken relationships.
Although I would like to do so, I cannot speak on behalf of the Methodist church because it is still considering what its response will be if the Bill becomes law. However, the Methodist church has always based its moral and ethical values on the fourfold foundation of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Twenty years ago, the Methodist church committed itself to listening attentively to the experience of those for whom a committed heterosexual relationship would not be possible. I think that we must listen attentively to the experience of today, listen to those for whom a lifelong, loving, faithful, joyful and sacrificial relationship can be achieved only in a same-sex partnership. We also have to listen to the responses that some of us have received from those who bear witness, from childcare and adoption agencies, to the value of same-sex partnerships in the bringing up of children and the overwhelmingly positive signs of good relationships.
We have to listen to the experiences of people and bring to bear our scriptural understanding to the experience which is equally valid under God. The depth and quality of relationships that have already been achieved in civil partnerships shows us that they are almost indistinguishable from the relationships experienced in heterosexual marriage. We have to bear witness to that. But we ask: why is it necessary to change if this is already provided for in our society? The one thing that is often missing is a deep acceptance that these relationships are equally valid and fruitful, and that they, too, form the bedrock of our society. They help to build up our communities. That is often missing. If it cannot be called marriage, it is seen to be a second-class relationship; we must address that. I also believe that if this is addressed in society, it may be the encouragement that the churches need in order to move into a different relationship. I long for and look forward to the time when these relationships can be celebrated within our liturgies and in our church life. I hope profoundly that it will become a reality in my lifetime. For all these reasons, I hope that the Bill progresses to further discussion and that it is passed.
My Lords, I share many of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, although I have to confess that I have spent many a sleepless night agonising over this subject: what is the right position to take? I, too, am a committed Christian and so I have looked for inspiration as to what marriage really is. The earliest reference I can find is in Genesis, chapter 2, which is often used in wedding ceremonies today:
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”.
One flesh involves a physical and spiritual union: the joining together of the reproductive organs of a man and a woman; the potential for creating new flesh in the form of a child. Non-consummation annuls a marriage and therefore marriage is, and can only be, between a man and a woman. Marriage in the Jewish tradition was considered to be a blood covenant. They used to keep the bed sheets as proof that the covenant had been satisfied. It is a physical impossibility in a same-sex relationship for the reproductive organs to be joined together, and therefore whatever we seek to call it, it cannot be a marriage in the traditional sense. In fact, it changes the nature and meaning of marriage.
The concept of marriage was not really established by the state; it existed well before our parliamentary democracy and is an internationally recognised institution that crosses borders, religions and millennia. I do not think that we should seek to change it. If this Bill were to pass, in due course we would end up having to create a new vocabulary for words like “father”, “mother”, “husband” and “wife”. This has already been flagged in other countries.
The proposed criterion for marriage is that two people love each other. The word “love” does not appear in the official words that are used in the wedding ceremony. If we accept that love is the sole criterion, then why cannot three people love each other? In fact, some countries already accept polygamy. This question has been asked in Canada, while in the Netherlands and Brazil judges have legalised what they call a polyamorous relationship, a cohabitation agreement with multiple sexual partners.
The reason marriage is limited to one man and one woman is that it takes no more and no less to produce children. If we were to accept that love is the precondition for marriage, why should we restrict it? If there is no possibility of genetic offspring or indeed no requirement for consummation, why should not close relatives get married? If that were to happen, I can see all sorts of interesting possibilities for inheritance tax planning. We would open a Pandora’s Box. I do not believe we have looked closely enough at the unintended consequences.
Despite all the assurances that religious bodies have been given, the European courts can eventually overturn them. I am unconvinced by some of the assurances about the locks that are to be put in place. In any event, a new Government could always remove them. Equalities legislation has already seen many Christians in court, and this legislation will see many more. This Bill will also jeopardise employment and possibly criminalise those with traditional views of marriage. We have already seen cases where individuals have lost their jobs over their beliefs. There must be room for conscience. Otherwise this purported equality for the few comes at the expense of freedom of belief for the many with strongly held convictions.
The Bill purports to address a remaining apparent inequality, but it creates many other inequalities for both sexes and for homosexual couples. Couples of the same sex will have the option of civil partnership or marriage, while at the moment heterosexuals can have only marriage. I know that the Government have announced a consultation on this, despite initially blocking it because of the £4 billion price tag. Will the granting of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples strengthen marriage? I suspect that it will not. Same sex will have no definition of “consummation”. Heterosexuals do. Same sex will have no definition of “adultery”. Heterosexuals do. Same sex will not be allowed to marry in Northern Ireland. Heterosexuals can. Same sex couples will have limited countries in which they will be accepted and you cannot conduct marriages in those countries without their permission. Same sex couples cannot get married in the Church of England, but heterosexuals can. Instead of equality we will have created a whole raft of inequalities.
If this Bill is passed we will have changed the meaning of marriage to some fuzzy institution without any clear definition and in the process weakened it. It does not have public support. I am not convinced by some of the surveys that have taken place. We have all seen our mail boxes and the number of people who have written to us opposing the Bill. The public consultation took account of 100,000 comments of dubious origin and ignored 650,000 from uniquely identified individuals within the UK. We have seen that 500 imams wrote letters to the Daily Telegraph, and a group of Asian and black church leaders, representing more than 1 million people, have also written. All these comments have been ignored.
The committee in the House of Commons was skewed 70% in favour of the Bill and no amendments were accepted. Amendments made on Report did not address the concerns of the opponents of the Bill, in particular in the area of conscience and employment.
This Bill fails because it weakens marriage and creates a new institution, albeit with the same name. It will limit freedom of speech and room for conscience. It will eventually redefine roles within a family. It will have unwelcome consequences for all faiths and damaging ones for employment. It also creates new inequalities. It was not in the party manifesto and was expressly ruled out by the Prime Minister at the time of the election. The public consultation was a sham and for a change of this importance insufficient time has been given to consider public opinion and the potential consequences. We can reverse most laws that we pass in this place. This one we cannot reverse. Therefore we should take time to consider our approach carefully.
My Lords, I come to this debate with a traditional, basic approach that marriage is between a man and a woman. I am also informed by my life experience of having witnessed over the years the treatment of homosexual people in society, with adult men in jail, persecution, and all sorts of real bigotry—not just verbal bigotry and hurtful language—against such people. This really was persecution. Recently, I met a young gay Catholic man who was in turmoil about his sexuality, but he still opposed what is wrongly called “equal marriage”; it is same-sex marriage. Hurtful language is a two-way street. To be called a homophobic bigot because you take a traditional point of view is also wrong.
When I was in an elected House and despite not having the luxury of being in an unelected one, I voted for an equal age of consent for young men of 16; and I voted for civil partnerships, again on a free vote. It was my decision and my point of view. This was in the elected House. Perhaps it is not free and easy now, but there has been a big change in society and I welcome that change. I have always supported initiatives to make sure that all people get equality under the law. I maintain strongly that my record of voting for that while I was in the other House indicates that I do not have to defend myself too much.
The Government are responsible for rushing this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, it is not on the back of a great a wave of support for changing the agreed definition of marriage. Surely, cultural and social change in this country comes about when the mass of the public takes the point of view that it is time for change. Over a number of years the public has shown that it is time for a change in the way in which society regards homosexual people. They have been treated disgracefully for centuries and it is time that it stopped.
A number of people—more than I would have thought—have said to me that they support the principle of same-sex marriage. I also accept that there is an element of generation in this as well. It seems that younger people are the more open they are to same-sex marriage. I like to think that the moves taken by the Labour Government, supported by many Conservatives, changed society so that it is now acceptable. Peter Tatchell has been mentioned. We are a long way from the Bermondsey by-election, but I will not take lectures from small-l liberals or even large-L Liberals, even if I have a traditional point of view. I also took part in the pressure to get rid of Section 28.
These moves reflect a society that was ready for change, wanted it and had tacit support for it. Frankly, I do not broadly find that tacit support in the society that I mix in. That is where the Government bear a responsibility. They have created divisions. They have exacerbated the feelings of those who feel that this has been forced on them as a way of exorcising Section 28 from Conservative Party history. The comments and pledges made by the Prime Minister have been mentioned. My main support for society is still there.
I will not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I will not vote for the amendment either, because that challenges the revising nature of the House of Lords and will put at risk the future basis for us, as a House, to intervene in, revise and improve legislation. I do not believe that the protections promised to the religious organisations are valid, because I see words like “inconceivable” and “almost impossible”. No one from the Government will give the absolute guarantee that the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, will not be prosecuted—that someone will not take a case to the European Court and win it. Where is the guarantee? During the passage of this Bill, if it gets approved and goes into Committee, we will look for amendments—not wishy-washy words, but a definite guarantee that churches will not be forced to take part in this and will not be subject to prosecution.
My Lords, I have been moved and very humbled by the intensity of the letters that I have received on this subject, on both sides of the debate. I have huge respect for the conflicting and deeply felt views. I have enjoyed some excellent speeches today. The contributions of those such as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, are the best possible response to alleged mistakes by some Members of this Chamber, and to our critics.
I have also been surprised. Two of my closest friends, who are gay, are very uncomfortable with the idea of marriage. Many more, though, feel deeply insulted that they cannot share in the full rights of partnership that are accorded to heterosexual couples, and that they are somehow treated as second-class citizens. Equally, it makes little sense that a man and a woman cannot enter into a civil partnership, but that argument should not derail the express train that is currently racing through Parliament—and sometimes we all look forward to the arrival of an express train.
In my recent maiden speech, I mentioned the centenary of my godfather, Benjamin Britten, Lord Britten of Aldeburgh. When I think of his wonderful relationship with the tenor Peter Pears and, if I may put it like this, the musical children that resulted from it—works such as “Peter Grimes”, “Billy Budd” and the “Serenade”—I cannot but recall that theirs was for many years an illegal, criminal relationship, if in every other conceivable way a marvellous and inspiring marriage. Mercifully, times have changed.
In the other place, we heard dire warnings that this is only the beginning of homosexual aspiration. To many loving couples it is the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of an inequality that they feel does not accord their love the same profound dignity as is given to men and women. Since many men and women who get married have no intention of creating children, to see marriage as instituted purely for procreation, wonderful though that is, is to take a somewhat narrow and blinkered view of where we now are in our society. This House, and indeed Parliament, must now be visionary. In 50 years’ time, probably much less, I suspect that we will look back and see gay marriage as having been as inevitable as the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the decriminalising of homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Among your Lordships, I would probably be among the last to have a direct line to the thinking of the Almighty, but I imagine that the love of human beings for each other would shine out radiantly as a presiding desire—transcending, and regardless of, gender or the semantics and legalese of how those attachments are formulated in contract. Finally, having admitted that I do not have a hotline to the Almighty, I now feel slightly more that I resemble a parrot because this has been said many times before. However, I must end with it. The vote in the other place was a free vote and that means, if I understand it correctly, that it has a democratic mandate that this House normally feels it must bow before. For that reason, and the others I have mentioned, I will very happily support the Bill.
My Lords, this is a fine debate and worthy of this House. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and to have listened to so many fine speeches. Like so many others, my postbag has overflowed. Most of the letters on paper are against the Bill, while the vast majority of those sent by e-mail and Twitter are in favour. So there we have it: an older generation versus the new.
The “anti” mail is clearly organised, but there is no harm in that. It does not make the views expressed any less relevant. Putting aside those letters that are clearly homophobic and written with green ink in the margin, the overriding message is the appeal to support “the traditional approach to marriage”. As a Conservative, I am rather fond of tradition but I must admit that I am at a loss to understand precisely what is meant by “traditional marriage”. How traditional do you want? As traditional, perhaps, as that well known fan of marriage, Henry VIII; or as traditional as the approach that once decreed that marriage had to be for life, no matter the outrages involved; or the more recent traditional approach that denied a divorced person the privilege of remarrying in a church. There is no traditional approach to marriage. It is an institution that has always changed over time and does not stand frozen in a single moment of morality. It moves; it adapts.
I would not have introduced this Bill at this time. There has been no great public outcry for it, not after the successful introduction of civil partnerships. It seems to me that the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are so fine as to be almost transparent and cast no great shadow. Yet the Bill is here—the pebble in the shoe—and it has to be dealt with before we can move on. I know that it was not in any manifesto or in the Queen’s Speech, which was perhaps a pity, but this issue must be dealt with on its merits and not judged by how it got here.
What should I, as a Conservative, feel about gay marriage? I do not believe in equality—I leave that rather charming nostrum to our friends on the Labour Benches—but in equal opportunity. That is getting closer to it. At the heart of this matter is that we are all born unique and different, while at the heart of my conservatism is that no one should be discriminated against because of how they were born. I do not know any man or woman who has found it easy being born gay. I have not met a single one who would have actively chosen that route, with all its discrimination and denigration, and with the embarrassments, injustices and outright hatreds that were and still are put in the way. However, we are what we are—what we have been born—and I will not look a gay man or woman in the eye and say, “You are inferior just because you were born different to me”, any more than I would do that to someone who was black or brown, or a woman or blind. We are surely way beyond that, so despite the fact that I believe that this Bill needs more work I will be supporting its principle and doing so as a Conservative.
This brings me to my final point, on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I have sincere personal regard for the noble Lord but on this issue I differ with him completely. It would do great damage to this place and to the legitimacy of this House if we were to destroy a Bill that has been given such an overwhelming majority on a free vote in the House of Commons. It would make this unelected House look out of touch, irrelevant and obsolete. It would bring back from the dead all those silly and shallow things that the Deputy Prime Minister keeps muttering about us. Our duty in this House is to revise, not to ruin, and to improve rather than oppose to the point of destruction. We have fought so hard in recent months to secure the future of this House and for that reason, above all others, it would be folly to accept his amendment.
My Lords, concern for social justice and human rights are basic to Sikh teaching, and I was delighted when the homosexual community was given full protection and dignity under the law through civil partnerships. It is, however, important to remember that social equality and respect for difference is quite different from the pursuit of uniformity and sameness and the deliberate masking of difference by changing the accepted meaning of language—in this case, the accepted meaning of marriage. In this, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The one fact of life is that we are all different. We all differ in our physical and mental attributes, and in our dislikes and preferences. Most people form opposite-sex partnerships, giving birth to children and nurturing them in the family unit. This type of relationship, defined by the parameters of declared commitment, consummation of the relationship and social commitment for the nurture and care of the family, has long been defined as marriage. Difference should be respected. While same-sex partnerships are primarily for adult companionship, they do not share the same social responsibilities and parameters that define “marriage” in so many different religions and cultures. What I fail to understand is the pretence that marriage, with its clearly defined parameters and attached responsibilities, is the same as same-sex adult companionship when everyone outside Westminster knows there is a world of difference.
There is no evidence of majority support for this measure, even in the gay community. In an article in the Daily Mail, the well known columnist Andrew Pierce writes that he is a gay man who opposes gay marriage. Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, who is in a civil partnership, is implacably opposed to gay marriage. David Starkey, the openly gay historian, is also opposed to the concept of gay marriage. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was the first Cabinet Minister to enter into a civil partnership, has openly criticised the idea of gay marriage, saying that the move to smash centuries of church teaching is “pure politics” and not wanted by the gay community, which has already won equality through civil partnerships.
There is no end of statistics which show that children’s life chances are linked to stable relationships to natural parents. If marriage is diluted to become no more than adult companionship, this will simply add to a growing focus on adult happiness to the inevitable neglect of our children, with more and more being taken into what we call care. If a committed relationship is all-important, where is the logic in not extending this to bigamous relationships? After all, there are more Muslims in this country than gays. Why discriminate against this particular religious community? Blind pursuit of unthinking equality can have unforeseen consequences. In mathematics, if you want to see where an equation is heading, you tend to take it towards infinity—look further down the line. Here we desperately need to look further down the line.
Much has been made of the so-called consultation process. Along with other members of the Inter Faith Network, I was invited to a consultation meeting and told that government policy would not be affected by our views. We are back to the world of Alice in Wonderland: sentence first, verdict after. The 87% majority against the measure has not only been ignored but turned round to claim a 57% vote in favour of the measure.
Government assurances that their lawyers see little likelihood of European human rights legislation being used to force people to act against their consciences inspire little confidence when we remember that the same lawyers said that there would be no problem deporting a certain Muslim cleric. It is in reality a measure that could well force many with sincerely held religious and ethical beliefs to either compromise those beliefs or lose their jobs. This has already happened to people like Adrian Smith, who was demoted and had his pay cut by 40% for saying—on his personal Facebook, in his own time—that gay marriages in churches would be an equality too far.
This is an ill thought-through measure that seeks to destroy a basic fundamental institution of society without any understanding or consideration of the consequences. It is a measure that has not been consulted on with the public at all and it has no mandate. For these reasons, I fully support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Singh. I totally endorse his conclusion and I will come to the reasons for that. As the 38th speaker, it is very difficult to make a constructive speech one way or the other on this issue, because all the arguments have been made not just once but many times.
What I would like to do, therefore, as briefly as I can, is to share one or two thoughts and concerns with your Lordships. Unlike my noble friends Lord Black— whose speech moved me—and Lord Dobbs, who said that they were voting the way they were because they were Conservatives, I oppose this Bill not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative. There are thousands of Conservatives around the country who take precisely that view.
I am a Conservative who came into politics initially at the time of Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan believed that the duty of a Conservative was to conserve and protect that which was good and to replace and mend only that which had had its day or was broken. This Bill defies that principle. It is profoundly un-Conservative. Marriage is not broken. I have not heard anybody today suggest that it is. It is good and we should be seeking to conserve and protect it. Instead, this Bill seeks fundamentally to alter it.
Undeniably, throughout history marriage has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, set out a whole row of ways in which the process of marriage has altered over the past 200 years. I can add to that. I am a Scottish lawyer. When I was called to the Bar in Scotland you could get married across an anvil at Gretna Green. You could also get married to what was known as your bidie-in, your long-term partner; if you had been living with them long enough you could go to the law and say, “Can you please now pronounce us man and wife?”. That was all that had to be done. Those are gone now. The form of marriage has altered.
However, one fundamental thing has never altered: marriage is between a man and a woman. Even when we heard talk about polygamous marriages, the sexual relations within those marriages were between a man and woman. That is what is fundamentally being destroyed in this Bill. It seeks within our law profoundly to alter the meaning of marriage.
Let me make one thing aggressively clear. I am not in any way anti-gay. Nobody who knows me would ever accuse me of being so. I have attended wonderful celebrations of civil partnerships where same-sex couples who are my friends have expressed their love and commitment to each other and I have rejoiced in being able to rejoice with them. This Bill is not about being pro- or anti- gay. That is a dishonest argument by those who make it, and does them absolutely no credit.
Rather—and this is my main concern—this Bill is highly offensive to many decent, tolerant and moderate Christians and to many decent, tolerant and moderate Muslims, and indeed to many others, including people of no religion at all, who see it understandably as an attack on something they hold very special and very dear and which has been held so for many years before them. They are angered by the fact that they were not consulted about this. They were not asked about it before the previous election. The consultations that have taken place have not even asked them whether they agreed with it; they were asked only whether they agreed with the way it was going to be taken forward. They quite rightly feel they have been excluded from something which matters desperately to them—not because they are bigoted or swivel-eyed, but because they are part of a culture, as am I, that believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.
This Bill does not create the much vaunted equality in marriage. It establishes two different sorts of marriage: statutory gay marriage on the one hand and what I believe will become known as real or traditional marriage on the other. When I talk about real marriage, I am talking about the marriage that people instinctively believe is between a man and a woman. Of course, Parliament is sovereign. Within its own jurisdiction it can change the legal definition of marriage. I have to accept that. This Bill may well do so. But for all its sovereignty, what Parliament cannot do is change the fundamental meaning of marriage any more than King Canute, for all his sovereignty, could order and change the running of the tide—and that indeed was the point he was trying to make when he placed his chair in the sea as the tide came in.
As a result, this un-thought-out Bill, which has not tested its own principles of equality and has not looked at all the anomalies it is creating, is going to divide our society rather than unite it; far from equalising, it is going to create discriminations. We will come on to some of those when we get to Committee. Some of those discriminations are very real indeed. Far from achieving understanding, it is already creating confusion. Far from building harmony, it will create disharmony, anger and long-lasting hurt. For that reason I will be voting for the amendment tomorrow.
I share a great many views that the noble Marquess has expressed. However, he and I came from the House of Commons. Does he not feel that when the other House passes legislation, it is perhaps wrong for us to reject it at Second Reading, and that we should go into Committee and discuss how the matter can be looked at?
I understand where the noble Lord is coming from. I say to him that, in looking at the Bill, I personally do not think that the arguments that I have made today can be cured in Committee. If they are going to be cured, we will have to start again with a new Bill, from the beginning, and get it right. For that reason, very unusually, I will be voting with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow.
My Lords, I was anxious to participate in this debate. I will start by telling your Lordships what marriage means to me. I was married more than 17 years ago in the beautiful cathedral of St Davids in Pembrokeshire. I am a committed Christian, an active member of the Church in Wales and the daughter of a much-loved priest who worked his whole life in a deprived parish called Ely in Cardiff. When I married my GP husband, I did not have the slightest inkling that, to my astonishment and delight, I would become the wife of a clergyman; my husband will be ordained into the Church in Wales in just a few weeks’ time.
Since then, we have brought two children into the world to respect the faith in which I am immersed. My marriage and family are the most important things in my life, and if they are under threat I will do all I can to protect them. Like all parents, we want the very best for our children. We want them to enjoy every possible happiness and hope that one day they will meet their life partner and get married.
When we were married, the words of the service began like this:
“God calls men and women to the married state so that their love may be made holy in lifelong union; that they may bring up their children to grow in grace and learn to love him; and that they may honour, help and comfort one another both in prosperity and in adversity”.
We believe that this sacred contract offers the best outcomes for our children and the best place for them to raise their families, and I believe that marriage is the best place for them to do this. I want this for my children, whether they are gay or straight. In speaking for equal marriage, then, let me be clear. I believe equal marriage is in the best interests of my family and of marriage in general. I believe equal marriage is in the best interests of my faith. I believe that equal marriage is in the best interests of my children and everyone else’s children.
Some have said that allowing same-sex couples to marry will threaten the institution of marriage and rock the foundations of our society, but I suggest that the opposite is the case. We risk making marriage into a stone idol, rather than a living, life-enhancing experience, by denying it to same-sex couples. With a few exceptions, I have been deeply disappointed by the contributions to the debate from the leaders of my faith. They seem to dwell on the concept of the institution of marriage. Institutions are often dark, dull, dusty places and none can survive without being revisited and refreshed; maybe your Lordships’ House is an example of that.
I look back at the words of the preface to the Welsh marriage service, where it says:
“God calls men and women to the married state”.
Marriage is a vocation, a response to a divine call rather than a set of dusty, ancient rules. For those who celebrate their Christian faith, marriage is far more than a legal contract. Marriage is a response to God’s call to love, and I see no reason why that should be limited to being between women and men. I believe the preface of the Welsh marriage service teaches correctly. God calls men and women to the married state, and that call, if it is between two men or two women, is equally sacred, is equally a marriage and deserves to be recognised in law.
I share with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury his experience of gay families when he says:
“You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship”.
However, the failure of his and my church to recognise the vocation of these “stunning” couples as marriage is deeply troubling to many faithful Anglicans here in the United Kingdom. The response of the church to this issue reminds us of a shameful time, only recently passed, when women with stunning vocations to the priesthood were told they could not have this vocation.
I share with many in this House and in the House of Commons a growing sadness at the discrimination that the church continues to practise because of the exemptions it has secured from law. It is becoming increasingly disturbing for me to think that my faith cannot survive in our society without the need for special protection, and has become the last bastion of social conservatism. I am pleased to see that there is a correction to the original Bill that recognises the Church in Wales as a disestablished church. There is now a provision which allows the Governing Body of the Church in Wales to introduce same-sex marriage if it should wish. I hope that the more progressive forces within the Church in Wales will win this argument and that Wales will lead the way for the Anglican Church of England.
My gay friends are not beating down my door demanding that we recognise their “stunning” relationships as marriage. It is people like me—mothers, sisters, friends—who look at their relationships and recognise the vocation of marriage when we see it, and are demanding that we should recognise and celebrate their calling and not try to hide it in some dark corner by calling it something else.
This Bill has passed all its stages elsewhere. It is the will of the people that same-sex couples should have their marriage relationships recognised in law. Surveys have shown that 80% of adults of my generation or younger now support same-sex legislation, including three in five people like me, who have faith. I am deeply saddened by the thought that if my children grow up to love someone of the same gender they cannot have their love affirmed and celebrated by the church to which they belong.
My Lords, time is short and there are many speakers in this debate. Therefore, like others, I will aim to be concise. I have four comments to make about the Bill. In my opinion the process of the Bill is and has been flawed; the purpose of the Bill is misleading; the premise of the Bill is worrying; and the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive, and I regret that.
Allow me to substantiate those four assertions. First, the process of the Bill is flawed. Little I can say here is new, but the facts speak for themselves and are important and bear repetition. A Bill such as this did not feature explicitly in any of three major parties’ manifestos at the general election. It did not appear in either of the previous two Queen’s Speeches. The formal consultation process, as we have heard, was purely on the basis of how this redefinition of marriage was to be conducted, not whether it should be conducted. At least that was how it was initially. Moreover the consultation counted only as one view the consolidated views of between half and two-thirds of a million citizens who signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, each giving a verifiable address. Only a short period was allocated for debate in the other place, where there are also doubts—and they have been expressed today—as to how free the supposed free vote in the other place was, not to mention the composition of the committee that gave cursory consideration to the Bill.
Secondly, I suggest that the purpose of the Bill is misleading. It is supposed to redefine marriage so it becomes as equal an institution between same-sex couples as it is between a man and woman. This purpose is a contradiction in terms. A redefinition of marriage cannot bring equality. The defining process of marriage is consummation, which is for the entirely practical purpose of bringing children into the world—the creation of families which have been the building block of society for centuries. The marriage of two men or two women cannot naturally bring about the purpose of marriage; legally perhaps, but naturally not.
Thirdly, I believe the premise of the Bill is worrying. It is supposed to promote the rights of a minority within our population by affording that minority a supposed equality in marriage. I have already argued that that cannot be so, but in the erroneous pursuit of that supposed equality, a Bill that is designed to promote the interests of a minority itself becomes a powerful piece of legislation that threatens the traditional interests of a majority of our population. The supposed safeguards being written into the Bill to protect the rights of many sections of our society to express the traditional view of marriage in private and in public will not be worth the paper they are written on. The inexorable march of litigation will frustrate over time whatever Parliament may, or may not, have intended.
Fourthly, I fear that the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive. For decades there have been vigorous debates about the acceptability of homosexual orientation and lifestyles. Tempers have been raised and emotions have flowed, but whatever individuals thought about homosexual or heterosexual lifestyles, an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance has been established in all but the most narrow-minded circles. The tabling of the Bill runs the risk of driving a cart and horses through that atmosphere, which has been carefully built up, of acceptance building on previous tolerance. In 2008, I became the first chief of staff of any of the three armed services to give the opening address at the Armed Forces annual LGBT conference. My theme in that address focused on one of the Army’s six core values—respect for others. I may not personally have understood or approved the circumstances of those who were members of the Armed Forces LGBT community but I had an obligation to respect them as individuals. Such respect and tolerance are being severely challenged by this ill-thought-through Bill.
In conclusion, I soundly oppose this Bill for the four reasons I have given but if I had to pick one of them as my principal ground of objection and why I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow, it is the first one. I believe that the process of this Bill has, to date, been tantamount to an abuse of process which, as a member of the mother of Parliaments, I am deeply uncomfortable about. Following due democratic process and procedure is a principle that I spent the 40 years of my professional life as a soldier upholding. We fought for the ballot box against the Armalite for 38 years in Northern Ireland; we stood for democracy against communism for 44 years in Europe; we stood for the democratic right of self-determination in the Falklands in 1982 and still do; and now as a parliamentarian I am asked to accept an abuse of the democratic process, and I will not do it.
This Bill is of historic importance and in my view history will judge us poorly if this issue was thought to have been fast-tracked to the statute book without due regard to the established democratic and parliamentary processes.
My Lords, it an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and I particularly want to thank him for what he said about respect. I say to my noble friend Lady Stowell how very much I appreciated not just her speech, to which I will return in a moment, but her joke and tell her that if she can maintain that tradition in her political life, particularly in a Chamber where everybody is uptight about something else, then she has a very bright future ahead of her.
My noble friend said that she respected those in the faith community who took a different view from this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said the same thing. I was initially warmed until I thought about it. I have been enormously privileged to spend 36 years in this building, man and boy, and I cannot count how many times I have been told I have been respected when the Minister meant that I was about to be ignored. If the Government really respected the faith community, as they say they do, then this Bill would not be here today. It was interesting that the religious freedom focus was on the 1% and not on the 99%, whereas if faith was going to be respected, the focus would have been on the 99% and not on the 1%.
My noble friend Lord Dobbs gave us a very enjoyable piece about not understanding what traditional marriage is. That got me thinking, although I have done no survey, that most of the Members of your Lordships’ House will have been married, probably most in church. Therefore we will all have acquiesced to a priest, pastor or vicar saying something to the effect that what we were going through was one man, one woman, and for this reason you leave father and mother to become one being, exclusively for life, and for procreation. Not everybody gets it right, but that is what was defined as the traditional marriage. The words are the words of Jesus, and when Jesus used them, they were the words of creation. Therefore, as a practicing Christian, I have a problem with this legislation, because I do not believe that it respects faith and the sincerely held views of those in the faith community.
It is also hard to have respect for this Bill politically. In May 2010 the Prime Minister said that there would not be any legislation. Seventeen months later he was cheered to the rafters by a Conservative Party conference when he told them that he was in favour of same-sex marriage because he was a Conservative. I will tell you something—he will not try that again in 2013. It will not happen. It is hard to have political respect and hard to have it off the back of what passed for a public consultation. Those in this House who know me well will not be surprised if I say that I was brought up on gospel stories. When I saw the public consultation I was rather irreverently reminded of Jesus turning water into wine. This Government turned half a million votes into one vote in order to get 53% in favour when actually 87% were against. Forgive me, but I cannot have respect for that sort of behaviour.
I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, something which he will never have expected me to say, and he will be encouraged to know that I am as shocked to hear myself saying it as he will be to hear me say it, for he and I go back a long way. But he was right. Major social change comes when the majority demands it. Major social and cultural change is not a product of the minority. If it is to be successful, it will be a product of the majority.
I have used up my time. For 40 years my life has been driven by Christian and Conservative convictions, and now I am led to believe that because I continue to hold those values and principles I am a swivel-eyed loon. I want to raise a flag for swivel-eyed loons, because at the very heart of our country and our party is a commitment to time-tested values and principles. It is easy to lose respect. If you lose respect you lose trust, and if you lose trust you are in big trouble—and remember, I was the party chairman in 1997, so I know whereof I speak. This Government need to focus on respect, and if they are going to do that they need to start by taking this Bill away and producing something an awful lot better.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, has just said. However, let us agree that the Bill has the noblest of aims: advancing the cause of fairness and equality to a minority absurdly disparaged and cruelly treated, not only in centuries past but in many societies even today. However, the Bill’s aims must be addressed with forethought and wisdom, of which it shows an embarrassing deficiency at present. I, too, urge the Government to withdraw this current muddled and flawed attempt. The equality that it purports to seek is a cheapened version of spurious uniformity in glaring defiance of reality. Our gay community, talented and caring, deserves better and can have it.
I wondered when I first looked at the Bill, whether amendments could bring it up to scratch. In places, they clearly might. In Clause 9(7), for example, the Bill enables the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage, but permits such conversion to have an effective date that would be several years before the relevant form of marriage became legally possible. There, surely, is an absurd anomaly that could be rectified by amendment.
However, as I read further and, of course, before having heard the devastating critique of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, today, it became obvious that only a thorough reworking of the Bill, with a root-and-branch rethink of its proposals and their implications, could do the job. This is perhaps especially manifest in the 60-page document, laughably called Explanatory Notes, which has several explanations such as this one on page 29, which states that,
“‘husband’ here will include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage … In a similar way, ‘wife’ will include … a man married to a man”.
Such linguistic acrobatics, distorting the marital bed into a Procrustean one, are inherent in the Bill at present. They smack, not so much of Humpty Dumpty’s world—as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, implied this morning—as of the dystopias of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. After all, Lewis Carroll was only joking; Swift and Orwell were deadly serious.
My Lords, I think by now most things have been said about the Bill. Nevertheless, I will repeat some of them because I want my views to be on record. The first thing I want to say is that the Bill is an outrage to democracy. No political party had the guts to include this measure in its manifesto. It is a measure that undermines the concept of marriage that has lasted for centuries. The Bill, as we have heard, was rushed through the House of Commons, ignoring the generally accepted rule that Bills with constitutional implications should be discussed on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee. That point was previously raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Under this circumstance, this House has not only the right to return the Bill to the Commons but the duty to do so, because it does not have the wholehearted consent of the House of Commons or, indeed, of this place or the country as a whole. I want it returned to the Commons because I believe that it should reconsider its position and either delay the Bill until the next election, when it can be included in the various parties’ manifestos, or hold a referendum on the matter later this year or early next year.
Some noble Lords have said that this House does not have the right to return the Bill to the House of Commons and no right not to give it a Second Reading, but it has every right to do so—and, as I have said, it has the duty to do so, so that the whole matter can be reconsidered. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that there would be bad consequences for this House if we ignored a Commons Bill in this way. I have been here for 33 years and, whenever anything like this has come up, we have heard the same threat, but we are still here—and we will probably be here for a very long time yet.
Like other noble Lords, I have been inundated with letters and e-mails about the Bill, and the overwhelming majority of them have urged me to oppose it, which indeed I shall do by supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. We have heard claims that the public are all for this Bill; we have heard all sorts of figures bandied around. My postbag and e-mails do not show that. Indeed, I well remember being told that an overwhelming number of people in the country supported AV and that it was more democratic. However, when we had a referendum on it, only about one-quarter of them thought it was a good thing. We had the same problem over regional government; when that was put to the vote, after it had been lauded by the then Government, who presumably believed that the people were for it, in the Prime Minister’s own constituency they voted against it by 3.5 to one. Therefore, we should be very careful about the claim that is being made that a large majority of the country is in favour of this legislation.
Those who have written to me find themselves in a situation where they feel that they cannot be heard. Indeed, I have to say that when the three parties agree to anything we lose our democracy. We are, in fact, in respect of this Bill, living in a one-party state, because the electorate can do nothing about it. Bills are rushed through. The major political parties believe, cynically, that since they are all in favour of it, at the next election people opposed to it will have nowhere else to go—that all the parties are in favour of it, so people cannot vote for an alternative. Of course, they can do other things, such as abstaining or voting against all those parties and all the MPs who supported the Bill. They cannot vote against Peers, of course. I will have great pleasure tomorrow in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I thank him for moving it.
My Lords, this Bill is promoted as a measure to end a discrimination against homosexuals, but the present law of marriage does not discriminate against homosexuals. The rights of a homosexual man are identical to mine. Subject to the laws on incest and bigamy, we are each free to marry a woman. Neither he nor I may marry another man. Our positions are identical. If it were to be held that the wish of a homosexual man to marry another man being thwarted by law was proof of discrimination, then the law forbidding polygamy would equally be proof of discrimination. Therefore, undoubtedly, we should move, on the basis of the arguments that have been put forward in favour of this Bill, towards making lawful the marriage of one man with two or more women, or a woman with more than one man.
It does not end there. The claim that the Bill merely undoes an act of discrimination is false; it is worthless and deserves no credibility. Those who support this Bill must find some other reason for it than that. If the Bill were to be enacted, it would introduce a real and novel form of discrimination. I understand that there is no definition of how a same-sex marriage would be consummated, or of what would be regarded as adultery in a same-sex marriage. Therefore, a heterosexual marriage would stand liable to annulment because of non-consummation but a homosexual marriage would not. Similarly, a heterosexual husband or wife might be found to have committed adultery, whereas a homosexual could not be found to have committed adultery. That is real discrimination. Then, of course, we would have to change the law for heterosexual marriage to bring it into line with homosexual marriage and abolish adultery and non-consummation. That would be madness.
Then there is the matter of the law of succession and its interaction with this Bill. There is, I believe, no bar to a lesbian succeeding to the Throne. It may happen. It probably will, at some stage. What, then, if she marries and her partner bears a child by an anonymous sperm donor? Is that child the heir to the Throne? If the Queen herself subsequently bore a child by an anonymous donor, which child then, if either, would inherit the Throne? The possibilities must have been discussed in the deep consideration of this Bill in government, so the Minister must know the answer. If she does not know it immediately, I am sure that her officials will be able to give it to her, because it has all been discussed thoroughly.
Finally, I must express my concern for those employed in schools and churches. Would their jobs be at risk should they question the new orthodoxy? Section 28 of the Education Act prohibited teachers from promoting homosexuality and was denounced by the liberal establishment. This Bill seems to require teachers to promote marriage between homosexuals. What will the liberal establishment say then? There must be some explanation for that.
We know already that a voluntary chaplain to Strathclyde police force has been dismissed for supporting real marriage. No doubt noble Lords have received a letter, as I have, from Ormerods Solicitors, setting out the concerns of many people over the impact of the Bill on those in the church and the teaching profession. Marriage exists not just for the convenience of couples but to stabilise society. It seems to me that this House would be wise to refuse a Second Reading for the Bill until all these concerns have been met. I underline again what has already been mentioned this evening in quoting page 29 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill. It states:
“This means that ‘husband’ here will include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage, as well as a man married to a woman. In a similar way, ‘wife’ will include a woman married to another woman”.
Does that sound like gobbledegook to any noble Lord? It sounds not merely like gobbledegook but the reversal of the natural and normal meaning of words. It is no good my noble friend waving his hand in that peculiar gesture. That is what it says in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill that he supports. I will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow night.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked some very ingenious and challenging questions, and I know that I am not alone in looking forward very much to the Minister’s response to them.
Irrespective of my views on this subject, to which I will come in a moment, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on taking time and trouble, and displaying considerable courage, in bringing forward the amendment and arguing for it extremely well. By doing so, he has, at the very least, ensured that today’s debate is a great deal more serious and intense than it would have been if the result had been a foregone conclusion.
I may be the first speaker who has deliberately refrained from taking a decision on how I will vote tomorrow until I have heard the debate. Incidentally, I share the view that the Government’s conduct on this Bill has been pretty unedifying. In my view, it should have been brought in as a Private Member’s Bill. It has nothing to do with party politics or the governance of the state and was not mentioned in any manifesto. The consultation exercise was clearly perfunctory, to say the least, and may have been dishonest and falsified if it is true—I pray that it is not—that a petition of half a million people was counted as the expression of one view. That is the sort of legalistic trickery one normally associates with Putin’s Russia, and it would be very deplorable if it has happened here. Nevertheless, these are not the essential points on which we will vote.
I shall certainly vote as I do not believe in abstention. I am minded to vote for the Bill on the basis of two principles by which I always try to be guided. One is the liberty principle, first explicitly formulated by Mill, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his introductory speech. It states that in a free society the state does not attempt to constrain the liberty of the citizen beyond the minimum point required to defend the liberty of others. Therefore, if you have two potential partners to a marriage or any other ceremony and someone willing to perform the ceremony, be he or she a priest, a minister of religion, a registrar or whoever, what right does the state have to prevent that taking place? That is a very pertinent and relevant consideration.
The other principle that I always try to be guided by is the Pareto principle, which says that in any structure of social relationships, whether or not enshrined in the law, if a change can be made such that even just one person is happier and no one is made less happy, that change should automatically be made. It seems to me that if we enact this Bill, we will make an awful lot of people very happy. Some say that it will make some people unhappy, but I do not accept that that is the equivalent emotion. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and some other distinguished noble Lords who have spoken this evening, disapprove of what is going on, but disapproval is not quite the same thing. Their own particular liberties, their own interests and their own utility are not impacted, so I do not think that that is relevant.
I am minded, broadly speaking, to vote for this Bill, but I have two very serious reservations that I will put to the Minister. One of these, thank God, has been raised by many noble Lords this evening, and I will add to the list of those who have emphasised it. The other has not been mentioned at all. The one that has been mentioned is the fate of people who might lose their jobs as a result of this Bill being enacted. We should all be extremely concerned about that. What about registrars, whom no one has mentioned? As I read the Bill, registrars, unlike priests and ministers of religion, will not have the opportunity to opt out. Are they all going to be fired? Are they going to be compensated? Is a decent effort going to be made to find them another decent job? We need to know. We cannot possibly allow this Bill to go on the statute book without having an answer to those questions.
What about teachers? I also read the legal counsel’s opinion to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred, so I need not summarise it. It states, very persuasively, that there is all too great a danger that teachers will lose their jobs if they continue to express the view that the proper concept of marriage is the traditional one, as we understand it. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, went a long way to meeting me—and, indeed, the House—on this in her remarks from the Front Bench when she said that the Government intended that there should be effective protections and were prepared to strengthen the Bill to make sure that those protections were more effective. The Government were not prepared to accept amendments in the other place, but I took it that there would be a greater degree of flexibility, perhaps as a result of this debate and of the reaction in the country. If that is the case, I welcome it. If the Bill goes forward, I shall certainly refer to the earlier assurance from the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, which will be very relevant to proceedings in Committee and on Report.
The other reservation and concern on which I must be satisfied if I am going to vote against the amendment and for Second Reading relates to the issue of legal blackmail. It is all too possible that, even if the law is totally robust, a teacher or a priest who has tried to opt out, or somebody else who is, or should be, protected under the Bill, may be attacked at law by a possibly aggressive gay rights organisation. The case may go up through the courts to the Supreme Court, even to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where ultimately the protections will prove to be robust and effective. However, how can a poor individual citizen possibly face a movement with millions of pounds to spend on lawyers who would certainly not, in this case, be working on a contingency or conditional fee basis? This thing could go on for years, running up millions of pounds and totally disrupting the life of the plaintiff—or defendant, depending on whether it was a civil or criminal action, though from a practical point of view the result would be very similar. We must be assured that would not happen. Who would pay the legal fees in the case of a priest in the Church of England or another church? Churches’ money should not be spent on defending a person finding himself in that position. Someone earning £15,000 a year cannot be expected to find millions of pounds to pursue his own defence. I would need a robust answer to that question before I would be prepared to support the Bill.
My Lords, when the civil partnership legislation came to your Lordships’ House, I spoke strongly in favour of it. If it came again because there was a need for further protections or development of the legislation, I would continue to speak very strongly and passionately for it. However, I am not speaking from the place I normally sit as Convenor because my views about this legislation vary from those of the overwhelming majority of my colleagues on these Benches. It is right to make it clear that I take a different view and that I am not persuaded of the virtues of this piece of legislation.
I am hesitant to speak because many of those who have spoken, and many outside, feel very passionately and sensitively about these things, and I have listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Barker, the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Finsbury and Lord Black of Brentwood, and others who have spoken strongly of their personal experience and their strong feelings and sense of hurt at times. However, others have spoken crisply and I have been sent e-mails by leaders of some campaigns advising me that any opposition to the Bill can be based only on homophobia. That is as unhelpful and unfortunate as extremism on the other side.
It is important for us to consider what is being proposed. No one disputes that it is a major change, and it is for the proponents of change to make their argument persuasively, not the reverse. I am not opposed to change, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, pointed out that there have been many changes in the institution of marriage over the years. At other times, she said, polygamy was possible. She could also have said, “and currently in other places”. In our part of the world it is illegal. The age of consent for marriage has not been the same at all times, nor has it always moved in one direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, was not correct when he said that the tide of history flows always in one direction—would that it were so. In many parts of the world it is flowing in a very different direction and that is one of the great dangers of which we must be aware when we espouse social change of a major order. My noble friend Lord Lothian made the point—and I share many of his concerns about conflict in various parts of the world—that if one does not take the people with one in a social change, one can actually provoke reaction against it. I give one example: I am a member of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and it is clear that there is a stream against continuing with the ordination of women, which we have had since 1927. It is not at all impossible that it might be reversed; it was reversed some years ago in the Presbyterian Church in Australia. Therefore, the tide of history does not always flow in one direction, and it can be greatly disadvantageous.
The question is: what does the community want? The electorate are often much more fickle, saying one thing now and a very different thing a little while later. Have the Government made the argument? My noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston made a thoughtful speech. I noted that she said, near the end, that quite simply the love and relationship are the same and therefore should be included in marriage. I had not even finished noting it down before she said that of course the relationships were different. Both statements cannot be entirely true. In a way, her jest—sometimes the truth is spoken in jest, and she mentioned George Clooney—said a lot because it pointed out that the thought of marriage is for many people about merely a sense of attraction, the wish to be with a person and the wish for that to be permanent. There was not much sense of looking at the other components of marriage that are also important but are not necessarily a part of civil partnership. The bringing into being of children, nurturing them and bringing them up are not things of little importance.
It is therefore important to persuade, and I am not persuaded that the talk of equality is not being mistaken for sameness in the minds of some people. Yet the truth is that equality is about recognising difference, diversity and treating people fairly, not trying to ensure that everyone fits into the same institution. The Bill will not achieve what it is said to achieve for gay Christians who wish to solemnise their marriage in churches. It will not happen unless what happens is similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, referred to when he talked about those who had spoken in favour of civil partnerships having changed their minds about whether they were going to press for same-sex marriage. Could it be that we find ourselves returning to this issue again in this House in debate and in legislation because, once achieved, there would be unhappiness that all the main churches were still not prepared to accept this matter? Unless one was a Quaker, liberal Jew or Unitarian, it still would not be possible to solemnise a marriage in a church. Would we return to the issue? I fear that we would do so again and again. The arguments must be clear, thoughtful and robust. This is not the only issue of equality whereby the notions of sameness and uniformity seem to have grasped people and they no longer understand equality in any other way.
My time has gone—those who know me well know that I can speak at substantial length on anything I care passionately about. I speak not as one who is unpersuadable, nor as one who stands in the way of change if it is clearly thought through and reflected upon, but as one who genuinely feels that sometimes what appears to be a progressive move can trigger quite the opposite. We must tread carefully, thoughtfully and reflectively to ensure that we make real progress for all concerned and for our society as a whole. A lot has been said about individuals but this is a social institution for society as a whole and it must be thought through in that context.
I shall continue to listen and to think. I suspect that I shall not feel able to support the Bill, but neither shall I feel able to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, because I believe that, the elected House having spoken, it is our job to consider, reflect and debate upon the Bill in public where our society may see it, and in that way contribute to the further discussion of the Bill.
My Lords, to my mind, the evidence is quite clear. Marriage is a human construct and the romantic idea of marriage as a beacon of stability does not stand up to scrutiny. Rather, as views about what is socially acceptable have changed, so have the boundaries and parameters of marriage.
The freedom to marry in the United Kingdom used to be confined to Anglicans. Over the centuries, it has been extended to Catholics, Jews and Quakers, to all other religions, and to those of no religion at all. Divorce no longer requires an Act of Parliament and women now have equal status in a marriage.
More than 80% of people in Britain now agree that homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society. What should be, and always has been, the yardstick when it comes to marriage is what is socially desirable; we should then decide what the function of marriage should be—not the other way round. That is one of the many reasons why I support this Bill. I want to offer two more.
The first is a practical argument, based on my long time in business. In 2007, I resigned as CEO of BP because of the lengths I went to in order to hide my sexuality. I thought that coming out might threaten the company’s commercial relationships and my career. I will never know if those fears were justified, but they are no way to do business. People are happier, more productive and make more money for their company when they feel included and they can be themselves. As a business leader, I want people to focus all their energies on their job, not on hiding part of who they are. Inclusiveness makes good business sense and giving gay couples the freedom to marry will eliminate one more barrier to inclusion. If it helps them to be themselves in the workplace, it will represent another step towards the meritocracy to which we all aspire. Gay marriage is a matter of strategic importance for British business.
The second reason comes from my personal experience. I grew up in a climate of fear, where homosexuality was illegal. My mother was an Auschwitz survivor and advised me never to trust anyone with my secrets. I avoided discrimination by simply keeping quiet. Young gay people today live in a different, more tolerant world but they still worry about discrimination, marginalisation and how their families and friends will react. One of the most effective ways to dispel this stigma is through the provision of role models. If I had seen gay men in legally recognised public relationships of the sort my parents were in, I would have found it easier to come out and I would have been a much happier person.
We must not lose the plot. The Bill enables same-sex couples to be married by civil and—only if they provide their consent—religious authorities. At critical points in history, this House has recognised the need to adapt to changes in society. That is the source of its strength and the reason for its longevity. I intend to vote against the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, the first thing I must say is that I have absolutely no choice about how I vote on this issue. The principle of marriage being a union between a man and a woman for life is sacred, and the role that it plays in binding together families and nurturing children is an indispensable part of the fabric of our country. That has always been one of my core beliefs and I cannot desert it now. I really do believe that if this Bill were to become law, untold and unforeseen damage would be done to our country and to how we see ourselves.
This issue is not like a debate and a vote on the National Health Service, on our nation’s defence or even on the structure of your Lordships’ House, important though those matters undoubtedly are. As far as I am concerned, this is a change that we should not even be contemplating or debating. The fact that we are is a very sad indicator of just how far our country has lost its moral compass or perhaps of just how wide now has grown the gulf between the people and those who govern them. I feel sure that millions of people share my beliefs and concerns to a greater or lesser extent and that, if this measure goes through, their belief in what their country stands for and the role of your Lordships’ House will be severely damaged.
If this proposal has genuine merit, what harm can voting against its Second Reading at this time honestly do? The worst that can happen is that the Bill will be delayed, giving time for government, all the political parties and the people in the country to think the matter through carefully. It can then be put forward again properly in a fair and honest way at the next general election, which is now not very far away. That is the worst that could happen.
But what is the worst that could happen if we allowed the Bill to pass its Second Reading without having thought carefully about all its ramifications, and without a proper political and national debate, which of necessity must be thorough and will take some time? I say that that would prove to be a disastrous course of action and one that we must set our faces against.
I beg noble Lords not to be bamboozled or seduced by the argument that says, “Just vote for the Second Reading and all your concerns will be ironed out at the Committee stage”. Once your Lordships have agreed to a Second Reading, the game is lost; they have sold the pass. A question of principle becomes a war of attrition in which the Government almost always prevail. Noble Lords should remember that they will constantly be told, “Well, you voted for it at Second Reading”.
The role of this House, and its legitimacy and relevance in the world today, are constantly being questioned—not, I hasten to add, by me. I have the utmost faith that this House will always do the right thing at the right time. However, these questions still hang over us.
Let us be honest: there is no desire or support for this Bill in the country. This is surely the moment to demonstrate our relevance, our understanding and our purpose in a way that will earn the undying gratitude of many immediately and, I believe, the vast majority of the British people when they come to understand what really was at stake. I will certainly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow.
My Lords, we have heard some stirring speeches today. No one doubts their sincerity and commitment. I particularly want to thank the Minister for the way she contributed to the debate in her opening speech, and the tone she set. That tone has been followed throughout the day. I also want to thank the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Smith, for their personal testimony of what it means to be homosexual, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as well. We need to hear those kinds of stories and take them into our system, so that we can think more about them in the days ahead.
In three weeks’ time my wife and I will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. I know that some Members of this House can claim to have served longer in the marital stakes than we have, but whether we have been married for just a few months, for as long as I have or for longer—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has the edge on me—all of us can say that along with the joy, the difficulties and some tragedies that happen to us on the way, marriage is at the heart of human love and society.
Those of us who were married according to the Book of Common Prayer will recall the preface to the wedding service:
“And therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly”.
Although addressed to the couple, the words can bear the broader meaning that nobody should take marriage lightly or indifferently. It is the view of many people that, sadly, this has happened and is happening. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his brave speech, gave voice to that. We are treating it all too lightly.
The Conservative Party knows that if the intention to widen marriage to include same-sex couples had been put in its manifesto, it would not have been in a position to form a coalition. Discussion of this fundamental building block of society—we have all described it as that—has been thwarted at every turn. There has not been a proper debate, and the consultative process has been a shambles because, right from the outset, the Government have made it clear that the consultation has never been about whether same sex couples should marry, but how it might be achieved.
That is now behind us, but there is a proper question that has come through our debate today, and it is one that I have heard from same-sex couples. They ask, “When you talk about celebrating married love, why can't it be for us as well?” That is a very important question that we need to face up to. Those proposing change usually argue, as they have done today, in terms of equality. But with respect, we are told that those in same-sex relationships already have parity with marriage through civil partnerships, which give them equal rights. Equality is hardly the right term to use when comparing same-sex couples with those who are married, not least because marriage is not, and has never been, viewed in terms of sameness, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester mentioned earlier, but of difference—the difference of male and female, which creates and nourishes life.
Of course, marriage does not have to include children, but in the majority of cases it does. It is a procreative institution. This is the major and crucial difference between marriage and civil partnerships. This point has not come across as powerfully as it should. Those of us who are resisting change are not doing so because we are cussed or bigoted, but because of the fundamental principle that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. We should not fall into a trap. We have heard once or twice that morality is on only one side of this debate; it is not. Those of us who disagree are morally concerned about the issue as well.
I will end by making this point. I have no doubt whatever that should this Bill pass, marriage as we know it will be weakened and diminished. I do not believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will strengthen it, as the Home Secretary has declared on several occasions. Recent research in countries where the marriage of same-sex couples is already a reality shows the collapse of traditional marriages alongside same-sex marriages. When we vote on the Bill tomorrow, we need to bear this evidence in mind. We shall all follow our consciences, of course, but I shall keep faith with the institution of marriage as I have experienced it and as I have taught it. Therefore, I will vote for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, it seems to me that one of the difficulties we have when faced with something that appears to be so new is that we cannot quite imagine what it must have been like when something like this happened in the past. However, there is a direct 19th-century parallel to the debate we are having here. It was the argument about the right of a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister. That battle was horrendous. The Table of Kindred and Affinity, that schoolboy refuge from boring sermons, specifically forbids such a union. It is the same chapter of Leviticus that condemns gay sex, and it called marriage with your dead wife’s sister an abomination. On that basis, your Lordships’ House stopped reform from 1835 right up to 1907. Last week, I reread the arguments of those who scuppered the reform, and I fear that I have heard them all again today. Your Lordships then complained about rushed legislation. They said that it would be the end of marriage and that it would encourage incest. They hinted at polygamy. They said in particular that for 2,000 years such an outrageous thing had never been contemplated, and yet, once passed, that most controversial of Acts was wholly accepted. The Church of England revised the Table of Kindred and Affinity so that what was once an abomination is now holy matrimony.
It was the science that did it. Once we understood consanguinity, we distinguished between relationships that were genetically dangerous and those which were simply culturally arguable, and so it is with gay marriage. Once we understand scientifically that some people are solely attracted to their own sex, we realise that homosexual practice is not heterosexuals behaving badly, but gay people behaving naturally. That automatically means that the state can no longer exclude this minority. As a result, in my lifetime we have moved from criminalisation almost to equality. Today, we have the chance to complete that journey, to accept the science, and to allow civil marriage for all.
This is civil marriage. State marriage has diverged from church teaching for more than 150 years; some would even say since Henry VIII rigged the rules to his own advantage, but that would be an embarrassment to some Members of this noble House. As a convert Catholic, I have chosen to accept that Christian marriage is about procreation, that it is indissoluble, and that there is no such thing as divorce. Yet, as a parliamentarian, I cannot demand that non-Catholics should accept that definition. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, has reminded us on other occasions, marriage is owned neither by church nor state. Otherwise, I have to say to the noble and right reverend Lord that I am worried about the basis of his theology. It seems to be stuck in an earlier age. There are no echoes of René Girard, one of the greatest theologians of our time. There is no word from Dom Sebastian Moore, not a touch of James Alison. It remains a theology that has not come to terms with Freud. In that it is a precise parallel with the 19th-century bishops who spoke here in that debate and who, like Samuel Wilberforce, had a theology that could not admit of Darwin.
There are, of course, those who say, “Why can’t these homosexuals make do with civil partnerships?” That is entirely to miss the point. Civil partnership is a means of protecting legal rights. Marriage is a public affirmation of love. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, says that marriage is at the heart of love. He is saying that this House should say to homosexuals that they may not express their love in that way. Married for 37 years, I find that offensive. As a parliamentarian, I cannot say that to fellow citizens. I cannot accept a society that will not go that far.
I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to say that my argument was built on a very unsatisfactory Bill. We need to send it back to the country so that we can have a proper debate on it. The noble Lord talks about the changes to marriage. Of course there have been many changes, but there has not been a change to the fundamental fact about male and female. I think that all the theologians, stretching back, would agree with me.
All I would say to the noble and right reverend Lord is that he is asking for us to go back to have a debate that he has already concluded. He has said that it cannot change this basic fact. I am suggesting that we have to accept that major social changes do not happen when the majority have aligned themselves. Major social changes have almost always happened when a minority have stood up for what they believe to be right and put it to the public, and in the end have proved that they are right.
I suggest that many of those who talk about civil partnerships were not terribly notable for their support of them at the time. I voted against civil partnerships because I thought that they were a fraud. The Government told gay people that it was marriage and straight people that it was not. I can now, in good conscience, vote for a truthful statement of a necessary reform and for a Prime Minister brave enough to promote it. I hope that this House will not repeat its 19th-century error. I hope that understanding will break through our misgivings and Christian charity through our doubts, and that the House will have the strength to say yes to this Bill.
My Lords, this Bill is about human rights and, as one citizen wrote to me, the creation of a society,
“where citizens are equal both in rights and responsibilities”.
In other words, this means equal citizenship for lesbian, gay and transgender couples. In the words of an LGBT carer, cited by Barnado’s, which supports this Bill in the interests of children, despite the fears expressed by a number of noble Lords,
“this is an opportunity to take away yet another barrier to equality, removing something that makes our families different to straight families”.
I would like to cite and pay tribute to a colleague of mine at Loughborough University, who has been at the forefront of the battle for equal marriage, Professor Sue Wilkinson, and to her partner, a former colleague of mine, Professor Celia Kitzinger. They married in Canada when Professor Wilkinson was based there, only for their marriage to be automatically deemed a civil partnership in this country when she returned. That for them was not equality. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, has explained extremely well why it was not equivalent. They wrote:
“As long as marriage is open only to heterosexuals, and civil partnerships only to lesbians and gay men, the British government is maintaining a symbolic separation of straights and gays, and sending out the clear message that our relationships are of less value to society than heterosexual ones. This is insulting, demeaning and profoundly discriminatory: an affront to social justice and human rights”.
I thus congratulate the Government on legislating to remove this affront.
In doing so, however, the Government risk creating a new source of injustice: the denial of the right of access to civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The announcement of an early review of civil partnerships is therefore welcome. I very much hope that that review will lead to their extension to same-sex couples, not their abolition. The Government Equalities Office published a document challenging some of the myths around the Bill. It states:
“MYTH: There is no difference between civil partnership and marriage. REALITY: There are some small legal differences … But for many people there are important differences in the perception of and responsibilities associated with these separate institutions”.
In the interests of those same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike for whom these differences matter, it would be a backwards step to do away with civil partnerships.
When the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, questioned Ministers, the Secretary of State had some trouble in understanding why some straight couples might prefer a civil partnership over marriage. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who is not in his place, explained:
“There are a number of people, particularly women, who do not perhaps share your enthusiasm for marriage and think that marriage oppresses women. None the less, they would like the benefits of a civil partnership and find it rather peculiar that they would not be able to have the benefit of this relationship when same-sex couples can”.
I have to confess that I was one of those women who chose not to enter what I saw as a patriarchal institution, even if the likes of George Clooney were available, which of course he was not. However, I might well have welcomed the possibility of a civil partnership—particularly with Mr Clooney. The committee also questioned Ministers about the costs argument that they had advanced. The Minister for Pensions cited a figure of £3 billion to £4 billion, but later indicated that this figure referred to the cost of total equality in public service pension schemes. Of course, the Bill does not end discrimination in pension schemes, an issue that was raised in the Commons. Could the Minister now provide a more accurate and focused estimate of the cost of extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples?
In the time available, it has not been possible to go into the Bill’s details or raise issues such as the legal recognition of humanist weddings, which I would support in principle. To finish where I began, I believe that this Bill represents an important step for human rights and equal citizenship. I therefore hope that your Lordships’ House will support its basic principles when we come to vote tomorrow.
My Lords, I regret that I cannot wholly follow or agree with the noble Baroness. Many speakers today have pointed to the social changes of the past 50 or more years. I do not, however, believe that progress is either automatic or linear. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the proponents of change must justify their case to the full.
I regret very much that the fine old English and French word “gay” has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority of the population. The result is that it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning. Now, under the pretext of securing equality, Her Majesty’s Government are proposing to change the meaning of marriage. It is surprising that the leaders of the Conservative Party, who might be expected to uphold traditional values, should lend themselves to this attempt. My noble friend Lord Dear and others have pointed out the constitutional and procedural defects of this Bill, so I will not repeat them. I do however agree with those who have identified unintended and unanticipated consequences.
After these criticisms, I will try to be constructive. Civil partnerships are already recognised in and defined by law. Surely the whole country should regard them as being an honourable status not to be entered into lightly but rather with the intention of permanence, as several noble Lords have already argued. Why should civil partnership be considered a second-best choice or a “make do”, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, put it, which somehow must be promoted to equality with marriage? Those who are in or who propose to enter civil partnerships have a responsibility to live in such a way that their status deserves as much respect as that of married couples.
I conclude that the whole matter has not been adequately considered. It urgently needs further and deeper thought. We should not be rushed off our feet just because some other countries have already legislated for same-sex marriage or because the Bill may be needed to cement the coalition. There is ample evidence that public opinion, including medical opinion, is against the Bill. I therefore support my noble friend Lord Dear and will vote for his amendment. I commend his courage and thoroughness.
My Lords, I got a phone call last week from a former colleague of mine, whom I had not heard from or seen for some time, asking if I would come to his same-sex wedding. I said, “Yes, when is it?”. He said, “As soon as you lot have passed the Bill”. I said, “We might not pass it”. He said, “Well, you’ll vote for it won’t you?”. I said, “No, I won’t”. He said, “Well, you can’t come to the wedding then”. I said, “You’ve just exercised extreme prejudice against me. Why are you doing that? You’re pleading that you want this in order not to have prejudice, and now you’re prejudiced against me because I’m saying that I’m going to vote against it”. Then he said, “It’s not you we want, anyway, it’s your wife—she’ll really make the party rock. Can she come instead?”. I said, “Yes, of course she can. You had better write and ask her. She’ll agree”. They did and she is going.
I said, “By the way, is this anybody I know?”. I thought it might be another member of the team. “No”, he said, “We’ve been together for eight years, but he’s someone you don’t know”. I said, “Good luck”. He then said, “Tell me, really, why you aren’t in favour of this”. I said, “I’m not in favour of it because you’re going to create a series of new minority sectors in the community. You think that you’ve been underprivileged and that you can now get to a point of parity, but you’re going to be like the animals at the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. You’re all going to be equal, but some of you will be much more equal than others. And what are you going to ask for next? This is the way it’s going”. He said, “It’s very unfair”. I said, “Look, my concern here is that this is introducing a new division and a new disturbance into British society at exactly a moment when we ought to be putting all of that behind us and getting on with being one nation, trying to sort out the dreadful problems we’ve got without worrying about creating new sub-divisions—and you are a sub-division that will cause a major rift in society”.
I base that view on the fact that I have had a vast number of letters, as my noble friend Lord Naseby said. I think I have had 393 and only three of them have been in favour of this Bill. One of them, which I thought was very sweet, was from a lesbian Christian society. Another, which was absolutely amazing, was from a major research organisation, stating that homosexuality was good because it was an essential part of the evolutionary process for the human psyche. I am still trying to work that one out. As for the rest, everything has been a heartfelt expression of the anxieties that people have over what this will mean for them.
I live in West Sussex, where we have a very strange situation. On the border of the diocese of Chichester, we have two villages called Eartham and Slindon. They are a case study in how the British public reacts. Eartham is a Catholic community and Slindon is Protestant. On one day each in the past 450 years, the populations of those two villages have got up, presumably had a good breakfast and gone out with the express intention of massacring the entire population of the other. They both failed, but they had a very good go at it. The point is that two villages can hate each other to that extent on religious principle and do it for so long.
We have now at last got it sorted out. The tragedy of Slindon and Eartham is the first thing that strikes you when you walk into them: there are no war memorials for the First World War. That is serious. If you do not have a war memorial in a village, it means one of two things. It usually means that somebody in that village was executed for desertion and, therefore, the village is suffering from shame and shock and will not put up a war memorial. In Slindon and Eartham there are no war memorials, but not for that reason. The reason is that when you look at the names of the people who died there—a lot died at the first Ypres—the same names appear on the Catholic and Protestant registers. They are not the same people. They are brothers divided by their religion, which is shocking. That they can live together, go to war together and die together, but not be remembered together, is an outrage. I hope that the right reverend Prelates in front of me will give some serious thought to the possibility that there is a wonderful opportunity for the Church of England to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War next year by setting about a systematic correction of all the missing war memorials in the country to include the 304,000 people who were led out by Protestant priests to face the firing squad. It would be a very nice gesture after this interval of time, and it is way overdue.
We have here an extremely unquiet and disturbed community, which is expressing grave anxiety over what it has. We have heard today that there are real reasons why we have not thought about this long and hard enough. I will wholly support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his vote tomorrow, and hope that we will get down to some serious thinking to put it right.
The one word I have not heard enough of today is “marginalisation”. There is a real prospect of marginalisation coming in here. I am particularly unimpressed by the story of the Australian sexual equality board, which received a complaint from the two opening batsmen of the Australian women’s cricket team saying that they had been dropped because they were the only two non-lesbians on the team. They wished to complain, whereupon the board wrote back and said, “If you think that this board exists to look after the interests of a couple of straights like you, you have got another think coming. We exist only for the sake of looking after the gays”. That is marginalisation. The board then rather spoilt the argument by saying, “In any event, ladies, neither of you scored enough runs to be worth bothering with”.
My Lords, seven years ago, this House considered the late Lord Joffe’s Bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill. I had been here only a couple of years and found it quite hard to make up my mind. I could see that the key was whether the safeguards were sufficient or whether, in the urge to be copper-bottomed, they had become too complex. I looked forward to Second Reading, because I expected the arguments for and against, and the merits and inadequacies of the various safeguards to be brought out fully. I was shocked when this House refused a Second Reading. It seemed to me that we had refused to do our job. That is how I feel about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as he knows; he was kind enough to tell me in advance of his intent, and I told him that I could not support it.
As this debate has very eloquently shown, the Bill arouses strong feelings on all sides of this House, as did the assisted dying Bill. I believe that there is a majority in this country in favour of this Bill, though a much smaller majority than was in favour of the assisted dying Bill. I believe that on assisted dying, the majority is now greater than it then was. I hope that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, presents his Bill, we will not make the mistake we made seven years ago.
However, there is a big difference between the two Bills. This is a government Bill that has passed through the House of Commons. In his eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, made four arguments to support his thesis that the procedures so far have been undemocratic. First, he said that the Bill had been in nobody’s manifesto and was not in the coalition agreement. What new doctrine is this? Would we have abolished capital punishment if it had been a requirement that it should first be in somebody’s manifesto? Would Lord Jenkins, in his remarkable tenure at the Home Office, have introduced the society-changing reforms—wholly to the benefit of society, in my view—if they had first to be in the Labour manifesto? They were not in the Labour Party’s manifesto. I do not think absence of a reference in a manifesto proves that this is undemocratic and I would be surprised if students of Burke were to think that.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, argued that the Public Bill Committee was skewed in its membership and that its discussions were curtailed. Possibly—I do not know—but it seems a very odd reaction to such a criticism to say that we should be denied any Committee stage. If the Committee stage was too short in the Commons, let us put that right in this place. Thirdly, he argued that the public consultation was inadequate or in some way defective. I do not know about that but let us explore that in our detailed discussions on this Bill. Fourthly, he said that Members of Parliament were under pressure from the party hierarchies and therefore it was not truly a free vote, to which I can say only that Members of Parliament, like Members of this House, are grown-ups. They make up their own minds.
Let us remember that in the other place they face the electorate back in their constituencies and if they are thought to have got it wrong they may pay for that and realising that may affect how they vote. It comes pretty oddly from this place, where we are not exactly paragons of democratic accountability, to accuse the other place of an undemocratic procedure in this case. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, will withdraw his amendment or, if he does not, that the House will not support it.
My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I am thoroughly unhappy with this Bill. Bearing in mind the large number of speakers on this matter, I shall be brief. In my 32 years in your Lordships’ House—I am sure I do not look that old—I have never experienced such a large mailbag as I have had on this Bill, not even for the Hunting Bill. I have had only nine letters in favour of this Bill but those letters were written with sincerity—I have no doubt in believing that. Each one was completely different and had a balanced and lucid argument. The letters against the Bill were nearly all virtually identical.
I really have struggled with this issue. At first I would have followed the noble Lord, Lord Dear, into the Lobby, should he press his amendment to a vote, but two further matters occurred to me. First, your Lordships sit here in this highly privileged position to hold the Government to account, to look at legislation and to improve it where necessary, bearing in mind always that the convention is that the elected House—the other place—should prevail over the unelected Chamber. This is a matter of considerable constitutional importance. It is the way in which we make democratic decisions. I have personal experience of wrecking two Bills at Second Reading—it was enormous fun—the Boxing Bill and the late Lord Diamond’s Peerage Bill, but they were both Private Members’ Bills and they were fair game. This is a major government Bill. We should at least give it a Second Reading. If we do not, we will deserve to be targeted by the critics and opponents of our very existence and that of this House. Our task is to improve this Bill, no matter how imperfect and unsatisfactory we believe it to be, by amendment and balanced argument on its passage through this House.
Secondly, I have listened to the views of many young people, the majority of whom I believe do not consider this Bill to be an issue. On the television programme “Question Time” recently, support for this Bill by young people was clearly demonstrated. Those young people are the next generation. We should listen to them and take their views into account. They have a completely different view of homosexuality and a high degree of toleration for what to many of my age is the elephant in the room. I can quite understand homosexuality as a fact of everyday life, but I find it extremely difficult to accept it as the norm. That is the way that I think—that is me. However, an awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the many years that I have been privileged to spend in your Lordships’ House, and things in society have changed vastly over that time. All these matters will continue to change. That is life—that is the way that things go on.
In opposing this Bill, I believe that I should be legislating for the lives of those of a younger generation who will have to live with the consequences of my actions, and I do not feel comfortable with that. However, when the Prime Minister and Mr Clegg refer to this Bill as being a move to create equality, I really object. Heterosexual couples who choose not to be married to one another for their own reasons should be able to join in a civil partnership, should they so wish, and as civil partners they should be able to enjoy all the same financial and legal benefits as those in same-sex civil partnerships or, should this Bill become law, same-sex marriages. That would be equality.
Finally, I have the utmost respect for the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I congratulate him on his tenacity. However, I can neither support nor oppose him, and I shall abstain on his amendment.
My Lords, to be given one of the dog watch slots—number 57—in a debate in this House is usually some form of Whip’s punishment. However, tonight it has been a privilege and a pleasure to listen to superb speeches from all sides of the House and on both sides of the debate, and to arguments that cross parties, religion, and sometimes confound pre-held expectations of allegiance. I suspect the reason for that unpredictability is that every one of us in this House has formed a very personal view of both marriage and homosexuality, forged sometimes by religious beliefs or by upbringing, but certainly by our own personal experiences.
We have lived through some quite extraordinary times. The way our society treats homosexual people has changed dramatically in the course of one generation, from being a crime to be punished with hard labour in prison; through discrimination, social ostracism, victimisation and, most recently, ridicule; to a point today where—I think the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, put his finger on it—to the next generation homosexuals are not branded as “queers” but are seen as people who simply have one natural variant of the human condition. It is not surprising that many of those who have lived through such rapid change are a little “off the pace”, as they say in horseracing. Bringing up the rear at present, I am sorry to say, is the Church of England.
Attitudes to marriage, too, have changed rapidly, and not always with consequences for the worst. Like it or not, today many people choose to live together and have children without it. Yet when did we last hear a child described as “illegitimate”, as always used to be the case in my mother’s generation? That must be a good thing. Like other noble Lords, I have had many e-mails urging me not to support this Bill, as it will change or even destroy marriage as we know it. However, it has changed and is changing, even in the Church of England. Indeed, it has to change to meet the needs of a changing society or it will simply become an irrelevance to more and more people.
Surely what is important is that our society is strengthened by more stable and loving relationships and the children brought up in them, who have the best start in life. Almost every relationship, unless you are incredibly fortunate, will hit choppy water or even the odd rock at some point. Marriage provides the strongest glue there is to hold two people together when that happens. Surely those couples who care enough to want to marry should be allowed to do so whatever their sex. Why should they not be permitted to use the strongest glue there is—the superglue—rather than being told to make do with the paste and water of a civil partnership? As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said, marriage is in effect regarded as the gold standard and at the moment we deny it to a section of our people.
To those who say that it was not properly scrutinised in the other place, my answer is: so what is new? If we rejected every Bill in that category almost no legislation would pass through this House. It will get proper scrutiny here. If there are concerns, for example, about people who may lose their jobs, they will be explored and, I hope, corrected if that worry is correct. Some of the letters I have had say that it is not fair on the children. I seem to remember the same argument was once applied to mixed-race marriages and to Catholics marrying Protestants and Jews marrying outside their faith—but no longer. The next generation has adapted to change and to variations on the traditional two married parents of opposite sex model.
I have had people say in letters, e-mails and, indeed, in this House that homosexuals cannot consummate a marriage; marriage is meant for the creation of children; homosexuals cannot commit adultery. Those are the strains of objections voiced by a number of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. We do not stop women over childbearing age or some disabled people from marrying, or those who cannot have or do not want children—of course not. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester conceded, such people are no less married—so why not homosexuals?
It is said that there is no demand for the Bill. It is true that its provisions will affect a relatively small number of our total population, but it corrects an unfairness for those people and rights a wrong that has gone on for too long. Frankly, whether it is two or 2 million who are involved, it matters not if it is the right thing to do. I believe that this Bill reflects a change in social attitudes whose time has come. I pay tribute to our much criticised Prime Minister, who has stuck to his guns on the Bill when it must have been very politically difficult for him. I am particularly sorry to have to oppose the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who has led us to some famous victories in the House. I regret that on this one, I believe that he is wrong.
Nobody is going to be forced by the Bill to contract, conduct or argue the case for a same-sex marriage. If an invitation should come through the door, any of your Lordships is free to reply, “Thank you but no thank you”. It is time to give homosexuals the same choices as heterosexuals and the same benefits in relation to civil marriage. It is time for us to stop putting them in a separate category and tolerating them. They deserve equality because they are equal. In five years’ time, I believe we will look back on this debate with incredulity at the objections that were raised and regard the time when homosexuals were not permitted to marry in the same way as today we view that long-gone time when—no doubt well meaning—teachers used a ruler to slap the left wrist of the left-handed child learning to write.
My Lords, marriage between a man and a woman has been the bedrock of society over the centuries and has proved to be a tried and trusted way of living and rearing children. The Bill that we are debating threatens the sanctity of marriage by the forced acceptance of same-sex couples. There are basically two levels to the traditional definition of marriage: the secular civil partnership and the religious commitment. The civil partnership is the practical relationship between two individuals who have decided that they wish to live together. The religious and spiritual part of the marriage contract is defined by the particular religion that is involved.
The civil partnership element of marriage rights is readily available to same-sex couples. The question underlying this debate is whether the state has the right to require religions to accept same-sex couples. The Bill before us, in its 52 pages, argues that it does—but I am one of the many speakers in this debate who do not accept that the Government have the automatic right, and who therefore believe that the Bill should be rejected. I therefore will be supporting the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
My Lords, this legislation brings into sharp focus the role of another important institution in our society—the state. It is an actor on this stage, promoting a view of marriage, so it has a high duty to get the statutory framework correct so that it preserves or actually encourages dissenting views in the national and local public square. For many years, the public square did not allow debate on immigration; any dissenters were racists and shut out. Such silence brings, at best, outward conformity, and led, I think, to more people walking past my flat on Saturday for the EDL than would have done if there had been a free debate. Any Member’s inbox will show how divisive this issue has become, and how strongly held the views are, but the public square is again in danger of being shut down. Dissenters are often automatically bigots or homophobic—or like the state of Alabama making Rosa Parks give up her seat on the bus. That is a false analogy—and that racism label again, but in a way that it would take more than a soundbite to distinguish.
Many gay people do not support same sex marriage. Are they homophobic? It is interesting to look at the exchanges in the other place between two highly respected Members of Parliament, Mr Burrowes and Mr Lammy, with Mr Lammy using a slave owner analogy and the ultimately mild-mannered Mr Burrowes saying that this argument was pernicious, offensive and playing the race card. Clearly, we cannot leave the average bobby to police this on our streets without further guidance, so this House will need to consider carefully amendments on free speech that the Government conceded were needed in the other place. Until these concessions, the Government argued that this Bill merely concerns the conduct of the ceremony itself. But legislation affects culture, debate and even atmosphere. Section 28 of the Local Government Act reflected a state view on marriage, and the gay community complained that the effect went much further than the words of the statute—and so it could be with this statute.
The state should have a view, but not a required orthodoxy. Healthy societies have pluralistic public spaces, and I have yet to come across a gay person who disagrees with this. We need to disagree without being disagreeable. Whether this statute adequately protects religious freedoms brings up some of the interesting legal questions at the cutting edge of jurisprudence, and lawyers are lining up on either side of this debate. The protections must work, because religious people are not going away. I hope that I have been wrong in detecting something of an attitude that soon the Church of England and other religious groups will get with the programme and soon just join in with all the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, so eloquently stated, we cannot often predict the winds of change. This may well prove to be a moment when we look back and see that the Anglican Church put its stake in the sand in relation to marriage, and we do not know where the views will end up in 40 years’ time. I want to put on public record that I appreciate the stance that the Church of England has taken.
It is interesting to note that western Europe has been out of step over the past 50 years with the rest of the globe. The rest of the globe got seriously more religious. If South Korea can go from about 0% Christians to more than 50% Christians in 100 years, and I look at the renewed leadership of the Anglican Church, I am optimistic. But even if the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is correct that the Strasbourg court will not compel a religious organisation to conduct a same-sex marriage, is that all religious groups can hope for—mere non-compulsion? If a small temple is denied local authority grants for its youth group due to its views on same-sex marriage, it should switch money from the food bank to legal fees to sue for direct or indirect discrimination. No, my Lords. This House should put in the Bill the onus on the state not to treat people detrimentally or less favourably and not leave it to the citizen or charities to have to go to court.
Finally, I will speak about my role here today. The complaint that this Bill was not in a manifesto has caused me to remember that the public did not vote for me; and at this moment I am actually grateful, standing as a Conservative, for that fact. I cannot be held to account by those who support the Bill. The people’s representatives in the other place had a free vote and voted overwhelmingly for this Bill. It badly needs amending. It needs this Chamber to do what it does best and improve and scrutinise legislation. The religious groups are not, I am afraid, generally content with this Bill, as my noble friend the Minister stated. The Catholics, black-led churches and other faiths, who believe that now they could be in an even more vulnerable position than the Anglican Church, need us to do our job. If this vote defeats the Bill, it will probably return next year, and we risk the Commons using the Parliament Act. In those circumstances this flawed Bill, as it stands now, would become law. Do I want to vote against this Bill? Yes. Should I? No.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, observed that, from a Christian perspective, God can be present in every true love. I absolutely agree. But marriage is about more than love. Then we are told that the issues at stake here are equal rights, justice and social inclusion. Certainly, these are things about which Governments may legislate. Indeed, if they wish to support particular kinds of relationship by according them tax and pension benefits, that must be a matter for normal political debate. However, in this Bill the Government have chosen to proceed not by addressing real, material or legal inequalities but by redefining the key concept of marriage and its meaning.
When Parliament legislated for civil partnerships, society gave legal and institutional expression to what many hold to be true—that gay and lesbian people should have the same rights to formalise their commitment to each other and enjoy the social and legal benefits that opposite-sex couples have. If there are matters in that legal provision that are inadequate or missing, rights that have not been conferred or legitimate aspirations not recognised, then that Act should be amended, and that would have my general support. However, the battleground that the Government have chosen is not material but conceptual. The argument is driven by emotional rather than logical considerations, which is why it is so difficult to debate. No matter how loud the protestations to the contrary, at stake is a shared and common understanding of the concept of marriage, together with the consequences—intended and unintended—to which they may lead.
We are told that the scope of marriage has evolved. It has, but “scope”, my Lords, not fundamental nature. The scope, as shown by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has been varied through history with regard to age of consent, number of permitted spouses, termination, what is allowed or prohibited and restrictions on members of the same family group. What has remained constant in all times and all cultures until very recently is an understanding of marriage founded on the premise of sexual differentiation and the resulting generic potential for procreation. It is with this unchanging basis that marriage has taken otherwise different forms.
The Christian tradition, in an understanding that has hitherto also informed English law, speaks of sexual union, the sharing of worldly goods, the help and comfort of one for the other, and the procreation and nurture of children. On their own, none has been understood to constitute marriage. Indeed, each of these worthy objectives may be found embodied in other legal arrangements. An agreement to share goods may be a valid contract, but it is not marriage; nor does sexual union of itself constitute marriage. Family units with children exist and have always existed outside the bonds that are recognised as marriage. There are many forms of human relationship for the support and encouragement of mutual love and comfort that are not marriage. Yet now, a commitment to love and be loved, arbitrarily confined to just two non-related human beings, is to be the sole basis for the married state.
Many of those advocating this development have sought to portray any opposition to it as a faith issue. It is not; it is a societal one. Shorn of the element of complementarity of genders, all marriage will be redefined, with consequences for all. Until now, common to the definition of marriage accepted by church and state has been an understanding that a marriage is not completed in the marriage ceremony, wherever that may take place. Marriage must also be consummated—completed—in the sexual union of male and female, and is voidable if it has not been consummated. However, with the marriage of two people of the same sex, the proposed law says that these provisions do not apply. Where is the equality in that?
Similarly, the current definition of adultery will remain unchanged—sexual intercourse outside marriage with a person of another sex—which, again, does not apply to marriages between those of the same sex. Where is the equality in that? Therefore, a Bill predicated on the claim that marriage should be equal and gender is irrelevant has to recognise that this logic breaks down when confronted by the reality of marriage as hitherto universally understood. However, the proposals contain their own logic, which is that over time the historic understanding of marriage must in law cease to exist. Despite this huge difficulty, I have still tried to understand the motivation for this radical reform. Why was civil partnership insufficient? Such partnerships already allow couples to share the legal benefits of marriage and, if there are remaining differences, it is easy to amend the law. I struggle to hear what is missing. I do not underestimate the power of law to change attitudes, but the question is, which law, and what is missing that would make such a difference? A civil partnership is an act of registration, simply recording in law what is already deemed to exist, whereas marriage, in law, is seen as a “performative act”. It brings something new into being, something that until the exchange of vows and consummation did not exist. A desire for such a performative act, a ritual, and an opportunity publicly to commit to mutual love seemed to be aspirations which I could appreciate, and so the law on civil partnership could be changed without depriving marriage of its single, central meaning.
However, Clause 9 of the Bill provides for an existing civil partnership to be transformed into a “marriage” simply by signing a register. If one marriage is simply a matter of civil registration without vows, performative acts or criteria for consummation, no provision concerning adultery, or presumption of parenthood, and if the word “marriage” is to have a single coherent meaning, then for every other marriage it must be the same. Marriage is now civil partnership by another name. A basic understanding of marriage, in law, will have irrevocably changed, and with one reality now bearing two different labels; or we will have legislated into being two very different realities, but confusingly bearing the same name. If that happens, it raises huge issues about social cohesion, and a move away from common shared values. I remain profoundly uncertain about the legal position not just as regards the personal views of teachers but as regards what may be taught in church schools. Are they to be allowed to teach a traditional understanding of marriage, one which until now church and state have shared, while in non-church schools a different understanding is to be taught? If so, what will be the implications for social cohesion as a result? Or will church schools be forced by law to conform to a new understanding which has no roots in the doctrines of any of the major faith communities, which then sets an extraordinary precedent for the state’s power to determine articles of faith, unparalleled outside the experience in history of repressive ideological states of the extreme right and left?
Further, what is to prevent other multiple understandings, including recognition of polyamorous, polygamous and polyandrous relationships, being legislated for in due course? That is the internal logic of tackling a legitimate issue of inclusion through the redefinition of concepts rather than addressing any real inequalities that may exist.
There is a quotation from Margaret Thatcher in Charles Moore’s biography:
“Equity is a very much better principle than equality”.
In conformity with that principle, my hope is that the Government will withdraw the Bill, full of so many seen and unforeseen consequences for the fabric of our society, and start again to produce something which truly does address the really important issues that have been raised in this debate.
My Lords, 60 years ago, when I was 12 years old, I was prepared for confirmation. In those days, confirmation was taken very seriously. We had to learn the whole catechism by heart and be able to answer the questions in it correctly, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, not just in our own words. We learnt about the sacraments and what a sacrament was: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. We learned that the two most important sacraments necessary for salvation, ordained by Christ himself, were baptism and holy communion. However, there were five other sacraments, not mentioned in the catechism but listed in article 25 of the 39 articles of religion, of which the church seems to have forgotten the existence. They are: confirmation, penance, holy orders, holy matrimony and unction. All these five visible ceremonies have a spiritual dimension.
I contend that it is not within the remit of government or of the European Union to interfere with the spiritual concerns of the church. I bounced these beliefs off my friendly local bishop and he agreed with me, but I am not sure whether the right reverend Prelates in your Lordships’ House do or not.
As many noble Lords have pointed out, the marriage Bill is highly emotive and induces strong feelings. I make no attempt to synthesize the varying views of this House; I rise to make one simple point. By voting in favour of the Bill we would be gaining something while losing nothing. That is to say, it would be a net gain.
What would we be losing? I urge noble Lords to consider, for a moment, the proposition that some who oppose the Bill have put forward. They say that the institution of marriage would be undermined. They say that by allowing two gay people to marry marriage would somehow no longer be sacrosanct. They infer that their marriage would no longer mean what it once did. I ask noble Lords to consider how their marriage would be undermined, subverted or devalued simply by allowing two members of the same sex the privilege that they themselves enjoy. I have come to the conclusion that my marriage would be just as special the day before this Bill is passed as it would be on the day after it was passed. I suggest that as I was married in the eyes of the Lord, I would remain thus. To reiterate the point, those of us married in traditional marriages would not lose anything at all.
I would like to consider what the country would gain by passing the Bill. As a Conservative, I believe passionately in the institution of marriage. Would we not want to encourage as many people as possible to enter into such a stable institution? Bruce Anderson, on Conservative Home, describes the family as “social penicillin” and an establishment that can,
“cure so many social diseases”.
In a crude comparison of married people and their single counterparts, we can see lower levels of disease, morbidity and mortality, healthier lifestyle choices and lower levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. The more people who seek to take this social penicillin, straight or gay, the better. Put simply, gay people would gain something that was previously denied them, and society would lose nothing.
I will conclude on a point made by my friend Daniel Hannan. He reminds us of the issues that have come before this House over the past 20 years: Section 28, lowering the age of consent, gay adoption and civil partnerships, among others. These issues, bitterly opposed by some at the time, have become widely accepted today. At those difficult moments, we as a House recognised the need for change. We accepted that our understandings of tradition no longer resonated with the modern world. We therefore voted to change those understandings to better reflect the generations growing up beneath us. As we did so, the new settlement became the new tradition. That is to say, the necessities of one generation became the traditions of the next.
It is right that we pay particular attention to what is being said outside this Chamber. We should listen especially to the young, the next generation. We should listen to their opinions and views about same-sex marriage. The young support the Bill in overwhelming numbers. I urge noble Lords to bear this in mind in the Division Lobbies tomorrow and allow the next generation not to reject the traditions of yesteryear but to build the traditions of the future. In doing so, we would be voting to allow the gay community—here I echo the Prime Minister—to walk that little bit taller in the world.
My Lords, I support noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Bill, but I wish to speak about the small section of it that affects trans people, which has not been covered sufficiently this evening. I should declare an interest as chair of the parliamentary group on transgender issues.
Transgender people suffer not homophobia but transphobia, which in many ways is more insidious and difficult to deal with than homophobia. I will give a devastating example: the case of Lucy Meadows, a trans primary school teacher who committed suicide after being pilloried and told by some of the parents and the press in particular that because she had transed she was not fit to be a teacher. The coroner told the gathered reporters, “And to you the press, I say, ‘Shame, shame on all of you’”. He was absolutely right.
However, that is only one example of the discrimination that many trans people experience because of the fear of supposed difference and the bigotry expressed against a person who should be recognised and treated respectfully and equally. Two aspects of the Bill correct some of the current anomalies and accept that recognition. It is welcome that the legislation provides for married trans people who wish to apply for gender recognition. It removes the requirement for them to be single at the point of gender recognition and thereby removes the obligation to dissolve their existing marriage or civil partnership. Equally welcome is the Government’s concession on spouse’s survivor pensions, which will ensure that no ongoing financial penalty will be incurred should a trans person in an existing marriage gain gender recognition.
There are, however, other fundamental issues that continue to present major concerns for trans people in existing marriages. Schedule 5 to the Bill is designed to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004, so that the requirement for an applicant to have dissolved any existing marriage is removed. The effect is that that the trans person’s spouse must grant consent for the trans person’s gender recognition. If that spouse refuses to give that consent or cannot be contacted, the trans person cannot gain gender recognition without ending the marriage. That seems unfair and surely a discrimination that has to be removed. It has been said that that is not a veto. One might not use that word but, to me, it is a way of saying no. I am not quite sure what the difference between “veto” and “no” is. It has also been said that it only happens very rarely, but if it only happens to one person, it is wrong.
Many events can fundamentally alter a marriage, including domestic arrangements such as buying a new home, having children, applying for distant jobs or medical issues. None of these requires formal spousal consent before they can commence. The Government argue that it would be unfair to remove the right of every non-trans spouse to have a say in the future of their marriage before gender recognition takes place. However, as Mike Freer, a Conservative MP, said in the Commons,
“it is bizarre that a man or woman who is transitioning can have surgery and change their name but cannot have a gender realignment certificate without spousal approval”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/13; col. 1127.]
A Bill designed to allow same-sex marriages and to treat them in the same way as other marriages is, in these cases, maintaining a difference between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages. This anomaly will, I am sure, be discussed in more detail in Committee.
Another anomaly which we should discuss further relates to Section 12(h) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which allows for the annulment of a marriage if someone discovers that their spouse has a gender recognition certificate but did not tell them beforehand. The response to the suggestion that this should be removed is, “Get out of the marriage quickly and at low cost”. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The courts would have to rely on one person’s word against another’s and, as the section applies only to those who already have a gender recognition certificate, the outcome could be that someone could decide not to apply for one, with the consequences that follow from not doing so. These are two anomalies which we need to sort out when we come to Committee.
Overall, however, allowing same-sex couples to marry will remove yet another distinction between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those who are straight. This will reduce stigma and take another step forward on the road towards LGBT people receiving their full rights. I am proud that I have been able to play some part in this in the past and I shall certainly vote for the Bill.
My Lords, like all noble Lords, I have received a vast amount of mail on this Bill and, because I sit on this side of the House, it is heavily skewed against the Bill. I suspect that the other side of the House has been fed vast numbers of letters in favour of the Bill. Why should it be that people preach to those whom they believe are already converted? Surely we ought to swap our mail to get a proper view of what public opinion is. I have had some mail and some e-mails in favour of the Bill. I would say to my noble friend Lord Dobbs that I recognise the age distinction, but the number of e-mails that I received for and against was very nearly even, so I think that there are some at least middle-aged people who share my views.
I am wasting time; what I want to come to is this. I was convinced by those letters and e-mails of the genuineness of the hurt felt by the homosexual minority in our society—a hurt which I understand is real. Of course, being a minority always generates tensions between the minority and the surrounding majority in both directions. The Government have a policy of social cohesion. Despite that, they went to their unsuspected ivory tower, looked out of the window, saw the great misty plain of social, political and religious affairs and said, “There is trouble there”. They then went back in again and disappeared from our view, and we imagined that they were making a strategic plan to solve the problem. Very soon afterwards, they emerged from the door at the bottom of the tower and said, “We’re going to do something about this”, and hope sprang in our breasts. The task before them was to reconcile the minority and the majority so that there should be equal and mutual trust, confidence and respect between the majority and the minority—between homosexuals and heterosexuals.
However, every single thing that the leaders have done since then seems to have been very cleverly calculated to stoke up the anxieties and mistrust on both sides. From that misty view from which they deduced that there was a problem to solve, did they then go out and inquire or have committees inquire into the situation as it really was and produce reports before they started to legislate? No; they came out with a Bill. There was predictable uproar because there was no consultation. My noble friend Lord Mawhinney dealt very ably with that, so I need not repeat it, but I should like to add one grace note to it. In the consultation that they have had, they have studiously avoided certain groups, as I understand from the director of the One People Commission of minority churches. He says:
“We note with sadness that not a single black or Asian representative was invited to give evidence to the Commons Committee that looked at the Bill”.
Even at that late stage, they had not woken up to the need to allay the fears of the people whose fears it is their business to allay. As a result, having started with one offended and anxious minority, they finished up with several dozen simply by ignoring the others.
Your Lordships have had plenty of theology this evening and do not need any more. We have heard it from real theologians and I have to say that I am carried and persuaded by them, but what really infuriates me is that the Bill has been brought forward in a way that has almost certainly doomed it to failure. The legislation may go into place but suspicions and anxieties have been stoked up and increased by the way in which all this has been done. There is a way in which we can go back to the beginning, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter suggested we should, and look for another route, and that is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dear, into the Content Lobby on his amendment. That may well trigger the Parliament Act but the result would be that in the next Session the Bill would come back to us and it would be open to us either to reject it or to pass it and take it through Committee. We would thus give the Government the time in between to do some real research and real diplomacy. They could make some real progress towards a harmonious solution and perhaps give the Church of England and other churches time to move a little as well. I am with the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am pathetically open-minded about many aspects of this Bill. I have studied with great care the arguments put forward on both sides of the debate, although you cannot really talk in terms of a single debate with such a complex measure. I have been immensely impressed, as I am sure we all have, by the quality of today’s debate, and the sincerity of the contributions made by all who have spoken. I have been particularly touched and moved, intellectually and emotionally, by the personal testimonies of my noble friend Lady Barker and the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Lord Browne of Madingley and Lord Black of Brentwood. I confess that my contribution tonight is not going to be sharp-edged and decisive, although I do have one proposal to make. I am going to speak very much in the hope that there may be reactions from your Lordships to it.
First, however, I have to join others in saying that although the Prime Minister has shown real courage in bringing forward this Bill, the way in which it has been brought forward and the conduct so far have been woefully inadequate. If there was ever a measure in which the general public should have felt part of our debates and our deliberations, this is it. This is not our issue. This is pre-eminently an issue for all the people of this country, whatever their views, whatever their background, wherever they live, whatever they do. There has been a lamentable failure to engage them. As the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said in his opening speech, the way in which responses have been measured, with petitions, however large—he mentioned one of half a million signatories—being treated as a single contribution really beggars belief, and one wonders why it was done.
In the same way, the gauging of public opinion by opinion polls is not sufficient. We have not had a deliberative document, a Green Paper—call it what you will—that can be distributed far and wide in order to elicit the mature views of our fellow citizens. I am a little suspicious of the figures that have emerged through the opinion polls, although I accept—and indeed it is my point—that most young people tend to think that this is a no-brainer, that of course those of the same sex should be able to marry; but it is possible to say that young people are not so much tolerant as indifferent to some of these issues. The sexual mores of our very young adults and late teenagers are staggeringly different from those which prevailed when most of us were their age. I suspect that many of those young people would say off the top of their heads, “Of course, marriage for everybody”. When they actually become married themselves they will mature into a different mindset, but that is by the bye.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that I cannot accept his proposal, particularly in terms of the constitutional arrangements with the other place. I do not think it would be right for us to seek to jettison this Bill at this stage. However, if we proceed as we are presently doing, there is the risk of a backlash. My noble friend Lord Alderdice has referred to this. There is a real risk that of the very many—I would say millions—of our fellow citizens who feel strongly about this measure, most of them feel strongly against the change. One cannot judge this by one’s own mailbag, but from the comments made in the debate, it seems that most noble Lords have received a disproportionately large number of letters and e-mails from those who are very concerned about what we are up to.
I do not want that. I would rather we emerge at the end of this process with an Act of Parliament that has general consent and does not risk a backlash in the manner seen in France or anywhere else. It should heal and reconcile the differences of opinion and, in particular, the extremes of opinion. There is some homophobia in our society, although thank goodness it is vastly less than we experienced in our youth. At the other end there is, I fear, a sort of phobia against those who do not take a totally liberal view of the homosexual position.
I put forward my proposal tentatively and in a genuine spirit of reconciliation. We should think of using a different word or title for a homosexual union from that of a heterosexual union; in effect, not to call the union of a same-sex couple a marriage but, I suggest—it is only a suggestion—an espousal. The noun that derives from that word is spouse, which is gender-neutral. I think that it would lance a boil in the public mind as to what we are seeking to do, bearing in mind that everything else in the Bill will remain unchanged. All the rights will be the same.
I am tempted to say that those who talk about equality of esteem, as I do—my goodness, if there is one thing that I live by in my politics, it is the equal worth of every human being and the equal esteem in which they have the right to be held—that to some extent it is a misnomer to talk about a same-sex union in exactly the same way as that of a different-sex union. That is because of two fundamental, factual, inescapable and ineluctable differences which have been referred to by other noble Lords. The first is the nature of the union and the second is the procreative potential. It is no good saying that lots of people who get married are too old to have children, do not want children or whatever. The fact of the matter is that most people who marry seek to have children and do so. Same-sex couples in their civil marriages cannot have children except, of course, through adoption, surrogacy or whatever. That is fundamentally different. It is not better or worse but it is fundamentally different. I do not see why we should not face that. It is a form of honesty that would inure to the benefit of same-sex couples in the long run.
That is my late-night thought. I hope that noble Lords will give me some of theirs before Committee so that I can decide whether or not to table an amendment.
My Lords, I feel honoured to have drawn the short straw of being the last speaker this evening, and I thank all noble Lords who are still here for being still here. I did not intend to speak because it seemed that virtually everything there is to be said was being said or was going to be said by someone else. However, I was faced with an enormous volume of letters and e-mails, which I spent a good part of the weekend reading through. I picked up from them some thoughts about the territory which I had not focused on before, and some rather important points were raised.
If there is one single point on which I think this Bill should not proceed, it is that the nation is absolutely divided. I do not know whether it is 70% one way or the other or if it is 50/50, but it is clear that, in the main, the senior part of the country believes in the traditional role of marriage and wishes to keep it, while a lot of younger people think that it is all a load of hooey and ask, basically, why anyone should get married. There is an absolute divide, and in this sort of territory I believe that it is a mistake to push through legislation until there is some form of consensus.
My noble friend Lord Deben referred amusingly to the Gilbert and Sullivan line:
“He shall prick that annual blister,
Marriage with deceased wife’s sister”.
I am not suggesting that it should take 50 years, but it has been a sensible British tradition in social matters to legislate and change gradually, and so keep up with public opinion. In 20 years’ time, when many of us are dead and gone, there may be some form of consensus in the majority of the country—or even before then. It is a great mistake to railroad this extremely unsatisfactory legislation through. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter brilliantly pointed out a lot of what is wrong with it. There are other issues that are profoundly wrong and the consultation process was also clearly less than satisfactory.
This is classic territory where it is not unreasonable for the House of Lords to exercise its reserve powers in delaying such legislation. Our job is to scrutinise and occasionally, when necessary, to be the upholder of public opinion. Public opinion is not at all happy with this legislation as it presently stands. Many have made the point that there was no electoral mandate, but it was rather the reverse: the Prime Minister actually stated in a pre-election television interview that he would not be introducing same-sex marriage, and so gave a commitment to the contrary.
As others have pointed out, I regret this issue of a 500,000-name petition being treated as a single vote. It was telling that there was not a single black or Asian representative invited to give evidence to the Commons committee, and their communities are often among the most religious in the country. Many may have noticed over the weekend that all the faiths came together—not just the Anglican church, but the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths sent a letter with 53 signatures to the Prime Minister urging caution and that he should think again before he pushed through this legislation to rewrite the meaning of marriage. In the world of faith, this is not just an Anglican issue; it is fundamental for all faiths, going back into the mists of history, that whether one likes it or not marriage is essentially about a man and woman getting together to have children and to bring them up as securely as possible. Just redefining, like that, what marriage means will understandably upset a large number of people.
The knock-on effects of the Bill have also not been adequately considered. If the Bill proceeds, the legal status of gay marriage will be different from that of heterosexual marriage, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter have pointed out. It is also extraordinary that the proposed legislation will not give equality to heterosexual couples wanting a civil partnership, as many others have pointed out.
Today’s debate has made it clear that the Bill needs more robust protection of religious liberty. The Adrian Smith Trafford Housing Trust case was a disgrace, but it illustrated what could happen if the Bill becomes law, particularly for those in the public sector and the area of teaching. John Bowers QC has opined that the Bill, combined with the existing law on sex and relationships and the public sector duty, would create a duty to promote and endorse such a new definition of marriage, and that those who expressed their religious views to the contrary would be put on the wrong side of the law. Moreover, a teacher declining to teach same-sex marriage could be disciplined. This is entirely unsatisfactory and not an adequate protection of religious liberty.
Where has all this come from? The impetus for redefining the meaning of marriage is not largely from the gay community, many of whom are perfectly happy with civil partnership as crafted a few years ago. It does not come from those with great social concerns either. I think it is the political agenda to abolish all legal differences between the sexes. I challenge the desirability of this agenda, as a point of principle.
Many in this House may remember that back in 2004, when civil partnerships were introduced, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, as spokesman for the Labour Government’s then Department of Constitutional Affairs, summarised that Government’s position. He said that the “concept” of homosexual marriage,
“is a contradiction in terms, which is why our position is utterly clear: we are against it, and do not intend to promote it or allow it to take place”.—[Official Report, 11/2/04; col. 1094-95.]
I believe that that remains the view of at least half the country and, as I have said, to railroad through the legislation as it stands, with its legal imperfections, would be exceedingly unwise. For that reason, I will be supporting the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 10.46 pm.