Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:03 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 3:03 pm, 5th February 2013

I am grateful for the tone of the debate so far, including from the Minister for Women and Equalities and the shadow Home Secretary, for the passion from people such as my hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert and for the call for tolerance from friends such as Natascha Engel and my hon. Friend Tim Loughton. I share with someone whom I hope I may call my friend, Steve Reed, whom I welcome here, and my hon. Friend Margot James the scars of past battles fighting against section 28, for example. It was not easy in the face of huge prejudice.

I come to this debate as the person I am, with the complexities I have as an evangelical Protestant by faith and a Liberal since my teens. So these are not easy issues for me, and they are not easy for many people here. I hope that we all understand the difficulty that colleagues and our constituents have in understanding the other side of the argument. Two of the strongest arguments made against the Bill are that none of us made an election manifesto promise to legislate for this and that this is a redefinition of marriage, the last being the point made by Jim Shannon.

On the first point, it is true that it was not an election commitment, so I ask the Minister, the Government and Parliament to proceed slowly and carefully and to seek maximum consensus. Heavy programming and tight timetables will be the enemy of good legislation, and I hope that the Government will be sensitive to that.