Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee 2:18 pm, 5th February 2013

A man called Mr Proctor came to my surgery two weeks ago. He had never been to see an MP before, but said that he had never felt so strongly about an issue before. He wanted to know where I stood on the issue of redefining marriage. I said that given that he was calling it “redefining marriage”, I took the opposite view from him. He said, “Well, you’ve lost my vote.” I said that I felt as strongly as he did about this issue and that if it meant that people would vote against me at the general election, so be it.

Mr Proctor and I had a long discussion about the redefinition of marriage. I did not deny that it was a redefinition, because until now marriage has been possible only between a man and a woman. I explained that what I wanted to do was to widen access to an institution that has brought stability and happiness to many relationships.

Mr Proctor was a probation officer. He had seen lots of family breakdowns and their terrible consequences. He believed that the traditional husband and wife set-up was the best for bringing up children. He blamed absent fathers for the riots in London in 2011. I could not see how that linked to gay couples enjoying the same rights as heterosexual couples and bringing up children in a stable relationship. He believed deeply that a child—in an ideal world—needs both a mother and a father. I believe as deeply that a gay couple can bring up a child equally well.

We agreed to differ, but then Mr Proctor said, “What I’m bothered by is that people like me are regarded not as having a different point of view, but as bigots and homophobes. I am neither a bigot nor a homophobe. I have strong views about this and they are traditional views, but why does that suddenly make me completely beyond the pale?” We talked about equality and equal treatment and how we were not forcing people into same-sex relationships. He and I discussed the idea of equality for a while. “Equality for whom?” he asked. He felt not just excluded from my idea of equality, but criminalised by it. He wanted to know what would happen to people such as himself—people with traditional views.

I thought a long time about what Mr Proctor said—about the importance of not being zealots and bigots ourselves, but understanding the other point of view. We are, I hope, going to make a change that will make it legal for two men or two women to be married. Just as when we outlawed incitement to racial hatred we started a cultural shift in the way society thinks about race, so hopefully this legislation will do the same. But we want to take people with us, not leave them behind feeling that their views are neither heard nor understood. Living in a democracy means that the majority view generally prevails, but that makes it even more important to ensure that the minority view is considered and taken into account. I like and respect Mr Proctor, but I disagree with his point of view, and I look forward to voting for same-sex marriage this evening.