Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:47 pm, 5th February 2013

I want to pay a special tribute to Mr Duncan because, while in opposition, he led his troops towards what became a consensual approach to civil partnerships. Let us be under no illusion, however. Those of us who were around at the time will remember that, in its own way, the civil partnership legislation was no less controversial than the Bill before us. Many of the arguments that have been made today are the same as those we heard then. In fact, I remember being accused by the then right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, Miss Ann Widdecombe, of undermining marriage. As of next week, I will have invested 41 years of my life in my marriage, and I do not think that I have been undermining it.

The Minister needs seriously to consider the concerns that people have on this issue. I agree that the Bill throws up certain questions. I echo my hon. Friend Mark Durkan in saying that she needs to nail down exactly what the protections will be for Churches other than the established Churches. I do not want to face any vicar, priest or rabbi and have to say, “I’m sorry, I got this wrong.” I want it to be right and the Minister needs to give us the right indication.

We need to revisit the issue of civil partnership. In its time, it was seen as a step forward. We went forward in unity with the gay community which at that time wanted legal rights to be established for gay people. However, the difficulty that arises when piecemeal legislation tries to deal with a strategic issue is that we get piecemeal anomalies, and I think we will be going down that road unless the Government—if not in tandem with this Bill, certainly as part of a later conversation—think more about what to do with civil partnerships.

There is a debate to be had about the separation of the secular and the religious. We can look at continental countries for which the only agency for marriage is the state, but where all the religious elements—I went through them myself in my own marriage—can be added on to that initial contract.

I will vote for the Bill. I have received representations—some rude, some very polite—and had polite conversations, asking me to do various things. As a legislator, I have to make a balanced judgment, and I would emphasise that tonight’s vote is not a proxy for Europe, for leadership contests or anything else. I ask Members to vote with their conscience, do what is right and walk through the right Lobby.