Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Sandra Osborne Sandra Osborne Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 3:09 pm, 5th February 2013

I, too, welcome the tenor of this debate, as Members clearly have different opinions about same-sex marriage, and the nuances of the various views held have been expressed well.

As someone who believes firmly in equality and human rights, I strongly defend people’s rights to express their views freely within the law, regardless of how repugnant I might find them or how strongly I might disagree with them. However, I would remind opponents of same-sex marriage of the much-quoted words of the late American politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”

Much of what we hear from the opponents of same-sex marriage is opinion masquerading as fact, so that they can then take the next logical step of insisting that their position should be imposed on everyone else.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would testify to the huge postbags—or large number of e-mails, to be more exact—we have all received on this subject from people on both sides of the argument. I particularly want to challenge two assertions that opponents like to pose as facts: that same-sex marriage is a redefinition of marriage; and that this is not about equality.

The definition of marriage has been changed by the state over time, so it is not correct to suggest that the concept of “marriage” has not changed. In fact, legislation around marriage has rightly changed over the years to keep up with public attitudes, from the beginning of real state involvement in marriage in the 1750s to the introduction of non-religious civil marriages in the 1830s, and from allowing married women to own property in the 1880s to outlawing rape within marriage in the 1990s.

The remarriage of divorcees is now allowed, and since the passing of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 it is now possible for a trans person to marry in their affirmed gender. On the other hand, religious marriage will continue to be a matter for religious organisations, not the state, to define—or redefine, for that matter. So this is about not redefining marriage, but extending it to a category of people who are already, de facto, eligible to enter into marriage as a result of the introduction and broad acceptance of civil partnerships. Surveys have shown that 80% of adults under the age of 50 in the UK now support same-sex marriage legislation, including three in five people who describe themselves as having a religious faith.

On equality, much progress has been made in fighting discrimination in the last few years. I am proud of the fact that Labour was in the driving seat for much of that, and I know from the current backlash against the Equality Act that progress is fragile. We need to keep up the momentum and same-sex marriage is an important next step in making progress.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have become adept at adopting the language and arguments of the equality agenda to justify diversity under the law in respect of allowing civil partnerships for homosexual couples and marriage for heterosexual couples. However, no matter how they try to dress it up, such a distinction is discriminatory. While the fact of discrimination provides a powerful case for this change, the growing public support I referred to earlier gives the best possible context for delivering it.

I do not share the view of some that marriage is so vital and important that we should support this move for that reason alone—