Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:42 pm, 5th February 2013

It is a great pleasure to follow Stephen Williams, who spoke powerfully from his own experience. I am going to vote for the Bill to be given its Second Reading tonight because I believe it is right to give all committed, loving partnerships the same legal status. However, the Bill bears all the hallmarks of a rushed job. The Government’s confusion between a marriage and a wedding is made clear in the explanatory notes, which state

“Marriage law in England and Wales is based on where the marriage ceremony takes place.”

Surely that is a complete misunderstanding of what marriage is all about.

I have two concerns that I hope will be addressed in Committee before the Government bring the Bill back for its Third Reading. I do not want us, inadvertently, to back the Church of England into disestablishment. The reason why the Church of England, unlike the other faiths, needs special mention is not to introduce a new hurdle, but to reflects its position as the established Church. Anyone and everyone who resides in a parish has the right to marry and be married in their parish church. Canon law, which embodies the teaching of the Church, is also part of the law of England. However regrettable some hon. Members feel this to be, the Church of England is not, in the foreseeable future, going to change its teaching on marriage, so this statute needs to reflect that position if the Church of England is not going to be subject to successful legal challenges. To put it another way, we need to balance people’s rights under articles 12 and 14 in the European convention of human rights to marry and be free from discrimination against the equally important right under article 9 to freedom of religion. Consequently, it is vital that that part of the Bill is not weakened in Committee.

In another respect, I feel that the Bill does not go far enough. The Government say that they want to treat all marriages in the same way, but part 3 of schedule 4 exempts same-sex marriages from rules on consummation and adultery. In practice, I guess that consummation might not be a big problem. As for adultery, however, surely if sexual fidelity is central to heterosexual marriages it should be central to any and all marriages. Why is the Bill fixating on biological heterosexual intercourse? A similar issue arises in how the Bill sets out the rights of children born to lesbian mothers. Surely children born to lesbian mothers should have the same right to two parents as other children and the presumption should be that a married lesbian couple are both parents of the child if one of them has a baby. I hope that those Members who are on the Committee will consider that, as well as the rights of children adopted by gay married men.

Finally, the trans community is often overlooked. I welcome the provision that will not require those people to annul their marriages in order to have their gender reassigned.