Four minutes are not enough to lay out an argument about this matter, so let me set out some ground rules. I very much agree with the questions raised by Mr Bradshaw. If this Bill passes through Parliament and becomes law, it will not be the end of the world as we know it; a new Sodom and Gomorrah will not take hold of our island. Similarly, if it does not go through, it will not signal some resurgence of intolerance or inequality. No one will lose any rights to equal treatment and respect under the law and in the eyes of society.
No doubt some of our constituents who urge us to vote against the Bill do so out of an intolerance of same-sex relationships per se, or even homophobia. Likewise, some of those who urge us not to vote against the Bill, with charges of bigotry, closed-mindedness and religious zealotry, are equally guilty of intolerance and bigotry. I am sure that the vast majority, if not all Members of this House, are not homophobic, and neither are the vast majority who support the Bill bigots. Let us therefore have this important debate on the basis of respecting each other’s position, and hope that that rubs off—for once—on some of our over-zealous constituents and lobby groups.
Let us get away from the ridiculous mentality that too often pervades arguments on sensitive issues: that if someone is for some reason not in favour of a specific issue, they are against the whole cause—that if someone is not in favour of gay marriage, they must be homophobic or against equality. What nonsense! I feel immensely special and proud to be British, but that does not make me racist or guilty of regarding citizens of other races as inferior.
I supported the Civil Registration Act 2004. It should have been introduced earlier and it gave same-sex couples the same rights under the law and the tax system that I enjoy as a married person. I do not regard a couple’s civil partnership as inferior or unequal to my marriage; it is simply different. That Act was an end in itself; it achieved equality. I reread the debate and found no accusations against supporters of civil partnerships at the time that we were bigoted or homophobic because we were not legalising gay marriage and going all the way. What has happened between 2004 and now to make this Bill so urgent and pressing that it takes priority despite no manifesto commitment by any party, no coalition agreement, no Green Paper, no White Paper and no general campaign saying that we desperately need it?