Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Michael McCann Michael McCann Labour, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow 3:49 pm, 5th February 2013

I well remember the days when same-sex couples were denied basic rights: next of kin and relationships were not recognised, pension rights were not available to surviving partners, and discrimination in property and inheritance issues was widespread. Civil partnerships recognised same-sex relationships in law for the first time, and I am extremely proud that it was a Labour Government, with all-party support, who passed that legislation in the House of Commons.

Legislation is not built on sentiment; it is built on fact, and I have to say to Members across the whole House that while that legislation unequivocally broke the back of unlawful discrimination, this proposal does not end any discrimination whatsoever, and has the potential to open up a can of worms of Olympian magnitude. I have to confess that I am bitterly disappointed at the manner in which people’s genuine concerns in this matter have been dismissed by Ministers. Logic has been responded to with platitudes, and there has been no greater offender than the Minister for Women and Equalities. I shall come on to that in more detail in a moment.

I want to ensure that my views are recorded, because I do not agree with the comments from people who are clearly steeped in bigotry and hatred. My concerns are based on three considerations. First, the Bill, should it become law, will give no new rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales, and it is a complete fabrication to suggest that it is about equality. Indeed, the briefing from Stonewall—an organisation I greatly admire—makes no mention whatsoever of new rights.

Secondly, I believe very strongly that the state should have no role in marriage whatsoever. Any couple, same-sex or not, should have access to civil partnerships or unions. If this is truly about changing definitions and setting them in law, for goodness’ sake, let us do it properly and allow the state properly to recognise relationships, treat all people equally and allow equal access to all the mechanisms of the state. By doing so, we would eliminate the controversy that arises when we start to use the same terminology as the Churches.

That brings me to the third reason for opposing the Bill. On 11 December, the Minister for Women and Equalities said:

“I know that many hon. Members are worried that European courts will force religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriages. The law is complex, but that complexity is absolutely no excuse for misunderstanding the facts. Case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and rights set out in the European convention on human rights, put protection of religious belief in this matter beyond doubt.

The Government’s legal position has confirmed that, with appropriate legislative drafting, the chance of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible.”—[Hansard, 11 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 156.]