I rise strongly to support this Bill as a practising Christian who now worships in the Church in Wales. I also rise, as I did the other day, with the greatest courtesy and respect for the sincerely and deeply held views and beliefs of fellow Christians and others who disagree with me on this matter. Although I disagree with the legal, political and theological arguments that have been made in opposition to the Bill, and cannot speak in detail today about why I believe such arguments are in error, at least we live in a society where such views can be courteously put forward and courteously opposed.
I am grateful for and proud of the steps that the previous Labour Government took towards establishing equality, and I also pay tribute to this Government for bravely introducing this Bill. I thank the Equalities Minister and her colleagues for the consideration that they and their officials have given to the Church in Wales, which as a disestablished Church with a legal duty to marry is uniquely placed.
Late last week I spoke to those in the office of the Archbishop of Wales and it was clear that they believed the Bill as currently drafted is much improved. In response, the Church has stated:
“The duty of Church in Wales ministers to marry will not be extended to same-sex couples. However…there is provision in the Bill for the law to be altered without the need for further primary legislation by Parliament.”
Although it is of great personal regret to me that my Church currently does not permit same-sex marriage, what is exemplified in that quote—as, indeed, it is in the rest of the Bill—is that it will not be forced to do so under the proposed legislation. There could not be a more respectful and appropriate compromise. Let me be clear: I will argue and pray for my Church to change its mind from within, but that is fundamentally a theological decision for my Church. The Bill is about not compulsion but permission—permission for the state to offer the legal institution of marriage to all those who request it, and permission for religious organisations to do the same should they so wish.
I spoke in detail last week about why I believe the Bill will provide ample protections for those whose earnestly and sincerely held beliefs will prevent them from wanting to take part in, conduct or otherwise engage in ceremonies of same-sex marriage, in addition to the extensive protections that people of religious belief are afforded by the Equality Act 2010. Hon. Members who remain concerned should test and secure assurances on that, but I believe there is no cause for fear.
All struggles for equality in human history are hugely different, but they have common characteristics. I do not wish to be crude or crass in making comparisons between debates on slavery, votes for women and other issues, nor do I imply that any Member of the House would have voted for slavery or against votes for women, but there are important historical parallels in the development of Christian and non-Christian views on those issues. With the greatest respect, I believe future generations will look back in deep confusion at some of the views expressed in this debate.
It is rare that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will hear me quote an American southern Baptist minister. Pat Robertson is no proponent of same-sex marriage—indeed, he is a staunch opponent—but when questioned recently on why an America built with direct intent on Christian values had justified slavery, based in part on interpretations of biblical verse, and yet moved on to abolish it, he said:
“We have moved in our conception of the value of human beings until we realized slavery was terribly wrong.”
Slavery and same-sex marriage are different issues, but I hope the House today moves on in its conception, towards people of all sexualities. I also hope we move towards the state—and, I hope in time, more faiths—being able to open up the offer of the commitment signified by marriage.
One of my constituents wrote to me simply to ask:
“Please vote in favour of this Bill…so that my partner and I can get married.”
When I decide that I want to make a lifelong commitment of love to a partner, whether that be to a woman or to a man, I hope to get married in the traditions of my faith and in the presence of the God in whom I believe. I respectfully ask hon. Members this question: why should we, in all good conscience, deny my constituent, fellow hon. Members or any other person in this country a remarkable and worthy institution that is currently afforded to the majority but denied to a minority? We will not diminish marriage by allowing same-sex couples to marry, but strengthen it. I urge the House to vote in favour of the Bill.