Having listened carefully to the representations I have received from constituents on both sides of the debate, I will vote for equal marriage today. I will do so because I am a Christian, not in spite of it. I believe marriage is important, and I believe it should be taken seriously—certainly more seriously than how it is presented in modern celebrity culture. I also think there are things that undermine marriage and strong relationships—the lack of family-friendly working hours and prohibitive child care costs are among them—but I genuinely cannot see how my support for equal marriage undermines my own marriage, the marriage of anyone else, or marriage as an institution. If anything, I believe it strengthens it.
I acknowledge that this is a difficult debate for some people. I understand that some Members have a different view from me, but I do not believe a case has been made to explain why the honour and privileges of marriage should not be extended to all. Some of the e-mails I have received have asked, “What protection will be offered to people who disagree?”, but this is a permissive law. It gives the right to conduct same-sex marriages only to organisations that wish to do so. I am genuinely not aware of anything from which people will need to be protected.
Another of my concerns relates to the role of teachers in Catholic schools in the event of this redefinition. I believe that the Education Secretary has provided adequate reassurance in that regard, but I hope we can all agree that what schools should be doing is working to tackle homophobia, and that that should be the starting point for the discussion of these issues in schools.
Some people have raised the prospect of “polymarriage” between three or more people if this change goes through. I find that objection quite offensive. Comments of that kind degrade the loving relationships of many of my constituents, and I feel that they make a poor contribution to the debate.
One of the things I find saddening is that in many of the objections I have received is an assumption that gay and lesbian people and Christians are two separate groups. When a petition was read out in my church on a Sunday several months ago, I could see how distressed gay members of the congregation felt. It is a matter of huge regret that some people—only some—have not acted more sensitively when addressing this matter.
While the overwhelming majority of the letters and e-mails that I have received have been extremely cordial, a number of them—not least some from people professing to want to uphold Christian values—have displayed a vitriol which I find extremely worrying. For instance, I have been told that my wife and I—my wife is chair of the governors at our local faith school—should not have married in a church if I am unwilling to vote against this measure. My response to that is extremely robust. If those people want to purge the various Churches of anyone who believes that faith is compatible with equal rights, they can do so, but they will kill the Churches if they do. There is no future in such a narrow, unwelcoming world view. We have reconciled many literal interpretations of scripture with modern life, and we can do so again on this occasion.
One of the more philosophical arguments that has been presented to me is that marriage belongs to the Church and not to the state. I do not believe that that is true either. We have revised and changed marriage through statute repeatedly over the last 100 years, and I believe that many of those changes strengthened marriage, notwithstanding the claims to the contrary that were made at the time. They include the introduction of register office weddings and weddings outside religious venues, and changes in the law on sexual violence within marriage. Many of those changes opened up the honour of marriage to a wider circle of people, and they should be commended for doing so.