Amendment made: 48, page 45, line 31, at end insert—
‘(2) In the case of an Order in Council containing provision which would (if contained in an Act of the Scottish Parliament) be within the legislative competence of that Parliament, no recommendation is to be made to Her Majesty under this paragraph unless the Scottish Ministers have been consulted.
(3) In the case of an Order in Council containing provision which would (if contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly) be within the legislative competence of that Assembly, no recommendation is to be made to Her Majesty under this paragraph unless the Department of Finance and Personnel has been consulted.’.—(Maria Miller.)
Amendment made: 54, title, line 4 after ‘overseas,’ insert
‘and for the review of civil partnership,’.—
It is always so encouraging to see such a display of enthusiasm at this hour.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I start by thanking the Front Bench speakers from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, as well as those from other parties located in their area of the House, who are too numerous to mention, for the good natured way in which the Bill has been discussed, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. The Bill has excited many different views, but we have always conducted ourselves in the best ways of this House.
While I am giving thanks, I also thank the officials who have worked very long hours to ensure that the proceedings of the House took place in a seamless manner, that questions were answered, and that papers were made available. My heartfelt thanks go out to them all for the hard work they have put into the Bill.
I have spent some time thinking about how I would address the House on Third Reading. As I have said, for many reasons, the subject draws strong opinion from Members on both sides of the House. Just as the Civil Partnership 2004 Act was discussed in pubs, homes, church halls and communities throughout the country, so has the Bill. Over the past few months, I have listened carefully to many different voices within and outside Parliament. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have had passionate but fair debates. In the best traditions of the House, we have maintained respect for one another’s views, and had open and constructive discussions with all involved.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point on discussions with constituents. It might be wrong to generalise, but does she agree that there is a generational aspect to approaches to the Bill—the younger generation very much supports it, but the older generation is concerned about the society in which they have grown up?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I am not sure whether he puts me into the older generation —I hope not. There are differences in views across the generations, and differences in views in different parts of the country and different communities. We must accept that people have different views for whatever reason. The most important thing is that we maintain respect for people’s different views. Such an open approach, which we have taken throughout proceedings on the Bill, has meant that the Government have been able to take action to improve the Bill, and to reassure hon. Members on some of the issues they have raised.
The Government have throughout remained committed to the principle that people should not be excluded from marriage simply because of who they love. The institution of marriage underpins our society. Over the years, as society has evolved, so has marriage. As such, it has remained our bedrock. The values of love, commitment and stability underpin marriage—they are the values on which our society is built. Despite our differences in opinion, no hon. Member would dispute that those are the values we should promote. If the values of marriage are the values on which we want to build our society, they must be available to all, and they must underpin an institution that is available to all couples. Our country is renowned the world over for its tolerance. We have a rich tapestry of faith, belief and culture. That is unique—it is part of what makes us British. Those strong traditions will enable same-sex couples to marry.
In no way will the measure undermine those who believe—for whatever reason, whether religious or philosophical—that marriage should be between a man and woman. They can continue to believe that. That is their right. No religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if they choose not to do so, and nor will religious organisations or individual ministers be forced to have same-sex marriages conducted on their premises. The quadruple lock that the Government have designed provides robust and effective protections. The Government are also clear that the Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or outside, from expressing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. That is their right. Teachers will still be able to express their personal beliefs about marriage as long as they do so sensitively and appropriately. Employers will be unable to dismiss or discipline a person simply because they say they do not believe in same-sex marriage.
I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed on those issues. The right for people legitimately to express their beliefs is why we have committed to do all we can to clarify or strengthen the protections on freedom of expression. I understand the importance that right hon. and hon. Members place on that.
If, through the Bill, we can strengthen marriage and protect it as the bedrock of our society in these changing times for the decades to come, provide protection for those religious organisations and their representatives who do not want to marry same-sex couples, and reassure those who disagree with same-sex marriage that their right to express such a belief is protected, then we should do so confidently and assertively. I am confident that we have struck the right balance. We have listened carefully to the concerns that have been raised, and we have made changes on the basis of those concerns.
Many pieces of legislation will have to be amended, which is why we have provisions in the Bill, particularly on ecclesiastical law, to ensure that all required amendments are made. My hon. Friend is right that this is complex. That is why I have been at pains, particularly yesterday and today, to ensure that we do not introduce new concepts into the Bill. We want to keep clarity and focus, and ensure that we do the job. I believe that in the years ahead we will look back on the passage of the Bill, as we now look back on the introduction of civil partnerships: we will be in no doubt that equal marriage is right and we will be proud that we made it happen.
It is important that we debated in detail some difficult and challenging issues. Yesterday, we talked about civil partnership. Equal marriage will correct something that is fundamentally unfair, and remove a barrier that prevents a whole group of people from access to an institution that underpins society. Civil partnerships were created to give same-sex couples equivalent legal rights to marriage at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage. Although I am clear that taking a decision on the future of civil partnerships now would not be a responsible thing to do, I have listened to Members’ clear concerns, particularly in the comments expressed yesterday. As such, we have agreed to undertake an immediate review of civil partnerships. That will be an important way to ensure clarity on how that aspect of legal recognition of relationships is taken forward.
We have had further discussions today, with Members drawing on issues concerning humanist ceremonies. The system of marriage in England and Wales, as we discussed in great detail, is based on a system of premises, and not, as in Scotland, celebrants. A change of the nature proposed in today’s amendments would, as we heard from the Attorney-General, be a fundamental change to the current structure of marriage. As has happened in Scotland, it would also open to the door to a range of other belief organisations being able to conduct marriages. Such decisions are a matter for Scotland—this is a devolved matter—but if we are to discuss these matters it is only right that Members are aware that the amendments tabled could not preclude opening up the ability to conduct marriages to belief organisations other than humanists. The Attorney-General made an important contribution to the debate. New clause 15 would have given preferential treatment to one particular belief group and made the Bill incompatible with the convention on human rights, so I thank Kate Green for not pressing the new clause. I welcome that decision.
Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the provisions of the European convention on human rights will not be compromised by the fact that the Bill makes unequal provision for civil partnerships?
Yes, I can. I am glad that I can make that clear for my hon. Friend, and may I apologise to him for not taking his intervention yesterday? I could not quite hear who it was. Had I known, I would definitely have accepted it. I sincerely apologise to him.
I accept that for some colleagues their beliefs are an insurmountable barrier to supporting the change, but to other colleagues I say, “Now is the time”. Let us not be sidetracked or distracted; let us not expand the remit of the Bill beyond its original intention; let us make equal marriage possible because it is the right thing to do; and then let us move on. I am pleased to commend the Bill to the House.
I am proud that the Commons has reached the Third Reading of this Bill, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House also feel proud to support it and to be on the right side of history. I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for introducing the Bill. I am proud, too, that Labour votes passed the Bill on Second Reading and will do so again this week. We are strongly committed to the Bill.
The Opposition have, of course, disagreed with the Government on some issues, including on the Bill’s handling of humanism, which we hope will be discussed further in the Lords. We also wanted early progress on opposite sex civil partnerships as an issue of equality before the law, but I hope that we have now agreed progress there. Nevertheless, the Minister will know that we have approached each of these issues, even when we have disagreed, in a considered way to ensure that the Bill can make progress, and I am glad that votes from Labour and across the House have ensured that no one now has any excuse to ditch or delay an important Bill that I think will bring happiness to many people.
I thank, too, all Members who, because it is the right thing to do, have championed the Bill even when they have faced pressure in their constituencies not to do so. I thank hon. Members who sat on the Committee and worked hard at every stage to get the Bill through. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who have done immense work on the Opposition Front Bench, and my hon. Friends who supported them in Committee. I think that they, and certainly the Government, will agree that nothing makes us more grateful for the normal presence of the Whips—I am glad they join us today—than being charged with taking through Bills that depend on free votes.
This is the right thing to do. This Parliament can now join Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay, France, which has just passed its own legislation, and New Zealand, whose MPs last month celebrated their gay marriage legislation in fabulous style by breaking into song. We can only wonder what would happen if the Minister and I leapt up and started leading a Eurovision-style chorus of “Congratulations” or perhaps Abba-style—probably not “One Man, One Woman”, but certainly, “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.”
The shadow Minister highlights other countries that have already introduced similar legislation. If we did not pass this legislation, would we not have to recognise the marriages of citizens from those countries who came to live or work in the United Kingdom or those who came here on holiday anyway?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We should recognise those people’s marriages. We should be proud to do so, and we hope that other countries across the world will join us, including countries where there is still terrible homophobic discrimination, which we should be fighting against. I hope we can lead the way by championing this Bill. We should remind people why we are doing this. It is time to give same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples to get married. It is time for equality in marriage.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for taking a chance on me. This week alone, two more countries and six states in America have approved same-sex marriage. Is not the tide of history with us and not against us?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I pay tribute to the work he has done to champion this legislation. I think we are on the right side of history by taking it forward. It is time to celebrate, not discriminate, when a couple decide they want to make a promise to stick together for as long as they both shall live.
I have had many letters and e-mails since Second Reading; I want to share some briefly with the House. One man wrote to me describing the difficulties he had had being accepted by his family because of his sexuality. He said:
“'My partner of 14 years is neither recognised nor accepted. It is however fantastic to hear politicians…standing up for people like me, ensuring that we can become equals at least in the eyes of the state, if not in the eyes of our parents and our religions.”
Another wrote to me to say:
“I’m a 23 year old gay man…I’ve had people tell me all my life that I am less worthy, wrong and sinful because of my sexuality, and although I’ve been incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends throughout, it does grind you down. And it can hurt, really and truly hurt.”
He, too, described the importance of seeing politicians in this House
“so publicly and passionately support the rights of people like myself and many others to have a more equal standing in society is really one of the most empowering things that can be done—political leaders standing up for those whose voices so often get silenced. I truly feel it is an historic moment in Britain and all I can say is thank you.”
That is what this Bill is all about. Rarely is legislation so personal. Rarely does this House have the chance strongly to reaffirm the equal respect we have for every human being, regardless of their sexuality, and the equal respect we have for their loving, long-term relationships.
We have heard strong objections to the Bill in the course of these debates. In this House we show respect for each other’s views, even though we disagree with them. Some have been concerned about the impact of the Bill on their faith and some have objected to aspects of it on grounds of their faith. It is important for us to respect freedom of religion, and I believe that the Bill has done exactly that. I hope those Members will feel reassured that their concerns have been respected. Of course, no religious organisation or priest can be required to conduct same-sex marriage and there are multiple locks in the Bill to prevent that from happening.
It is also important to remember that many people with strong faith, of all faiths, strongly support this Bill. We should not see it as something that promotes a secular-faith divide, because it does not. I am pleased, too, that Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Judaism have said that they want to be able to celebrate same-sex marriages. I am pleased that they will be able to do so as a result of this Bill. I hope that other faiths will change their minds over time, because that is freedom of religion too.
We have heard other objections to the Bill in these debates. We have heard people claim that allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married will somehow undermine the marriage of heterosexual couples, but how will it? There are MPs in this House who want to get married who will be able to do so as a result of this Bill: excellent—I personally hope I get an invitation to the reception—but does that undermine my marriage? How could it—unless, of course, they want to marry the shadow Chancellor, which could pose a few challenges. This Bill does not undermine the marriage of anybody in this House or across the country. The idea that two brides tying the knot says anything about the relationship of their neighbours next door is simply ludicrous. Nor is it good enough to say that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman, because marriage has rightly changed before and it can do so again. That is not a definition; it is discrimination.
We have seen this subject become part of the internal debates within the Conservative party. To Conservative Members I would simply say that fighting over Europe is one thing—they are welcome to that—but I hope that they will stop fighting over this. I hope that they will join Members across the House in being proud of this Bill. I have heard many Conservative Members talk about the anger in their constituencies and the anger among their party members. I hope that they will now feel able to stop talking about the anger and to start talking about the joy. This is about the joy that we can deliver for those who want to get married just as their parents did, the joy that we can make possible for the couple who want to get married just as their sister or brother did last year, and the joy that we can provide by saying to couples across Britain, “We won’t discriminate against you on the ground of your sexuality. We respect, support and celebrate your relationship.”
Members might recall that I argued on Second Reading that marriage was about the joy and the sorrow, about the excitement and the tragedy, and about the romance of the wedding day as well as the deeper romance of growing old and grey together, even once the party has faded. I gave the example of an elderly couple, one of whom was caring for the other who had dementia. I described the love, commitment and duty that that showed, and said how powerful that was, whether it was between a man and a woman, two men or two women. In response to that, I received an e-mail from a man who wrote:
“I was particularly touched at your reference to a couple enduring dementia. This is precisely what my parents are now facing after 54 years of marriage. The example they have shown me over my lifetime and now that my mother suffers with the disease is precisely what marriage is all about. I try every day to live up to their example, as I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my partner whom I love very much. I expect in this day and age, and for generations to come, that we should be able to have our commitment to each other acknowledged in law in an equal way with our straight friends. Your argument is truly Christian in nature, entirely humanist and on the right side of history. My partner and I, our families, and our future children thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
I thank all those who are supporting the Bill. Let us be loud and proud. Let us start the singing. Let us celebrate, not discriminate. Let us pass this Bill. Let us put aside the anger, and let us hear it for the joy.
Earlier today, while the Health Secretary was responding to an urgent question on accident and emergency departments, I had to take myself along to the A and E department at St Thomas’s hospital because something was wrong with my eyes. I am told that everything is fine, but I had some drops put into my eyes and, as a result, I am now unable to see the official Opposition. The only thing I can see, and have sought to remark on, is the loud and proud and typically revolting tie of Chris Bryant. However, I notice that you are wearing the same tie, Mr Speaker. I therefore unreservedly withdraw my remark.
The most serious concern that has been advanced about the Bill relates to ensuring that religious freedom is protected. The concerns expressed by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes are surely genuine, and we were right to pay attention to them. I would not support any measure in this House that would force a Church to conduct a same-sex marriage against its will. That principle of religious liberty is immensely important. The fact that the Bill protects Church organisations and that the Church of England has expressed its confidence in the locks that have been put into the Bill should give the House confidence that we can proceed with this measure. Of course there are other aspects of religious freedom that we need to protect. They were discussed yesterday and will be the subject of further discussion in the House of Lords.
The essence is that no church will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage against its will. Religious freedom cuts both ways, and those who have rightly spoken on behalf of religious freedom cannot ignore the cause of religious freedom for Churches that do wish to conduct same-sex marriages. What about the Quakers, the Unitarians or the liberal Jews; what about their religious freedom? My argument is that the Bill extends religious freedom and does not restrict it and that those who are concerned about religious freedom should support it. Those advancing these arguments need to say why they have not been interested in Churches such as the Quakers and why they believe that the law of the land should prevent those Churches from doing what they seek to do.
Other arguments have been put against this legislation—that it redefines marriage for everyone, so that even if Churches are protected, the concern remains that it changes the definition of marriage for others, too. As has been said on a number of occasions here, how exactly does it harm or affect those who enter into a heterosexual marriage if a same-sex couple enter into a marriage, too? How does it devalue, change or alter the marriage they have? The truth is that this is not a measure that can remotely be held to do any harm to people at all. Absolutely no harm is done by this measure and a very great deal of good can be done by it.
Less impressive arguments have been advanced in respect of this legislation. It has been said that because same-sex marriages cannot be consummated, there is some problem or lack of equivalence, or that because adultery provisions will not apply directly, there is a lack of equivalence. Actually, most heterosexual marriages are, sadly, ended by the cause of unreasonable behaviour, which could apply just as easily to same-sex couples. I think there was an unfortunate implication behind that criticism, which was that somehow same-sex couples were seeking a licence to enter a marriage in respect of which they sought to escape or avoid the vows undertaken. Of course, the absolute opposite is the case. It is right to extend same-sex marriage to gay couples precisely because it is a good thing if they enter into a loving and permanent commitment to each other. That is a good thing for them, for society and for families, and we should celebrate and support it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a consensus across the country that this legislation is important and that we should back it? Even in my rural county of Shropshire, a recent opinion poll taken by the local media showed a majority in favour of this legislation.
I thank my hon. Friend and strongly agree with him.
I was about to say that it has been suggested that the public are not with this legislation. Of course an element of the public are concerned about it. That much is clear, but it is also clear from all the independently conducted opinion polls—not those conducted by the pressure groups opposed to the Bill—that a majority of the public support this legislation and that the majority is increasing, as we have seen throughout the world. As for the idea of holding a referendum on such measures at any time, apart from being a bad idea in itself because the House of Commons decides these matters, such a referendum would be likely to pass this measure in any case because the public are in favour of it.
When homosexuality was decriminalised, some Members of Parliament objected. When civil partnerships were introduced, some Members of Parliament objected. They were found to be wrong because society moved on. Attitudes change and attitudes to gay people have changed. The Bill will do no harm and a very great deal of good by celebrating love and commitment and by treating a minority equally. That is why we should welcome it.
As is well known in this House, the Democratic Unionist party opposes this legislation and continues to oppose the Bill in principle. I want to commend my hon. Friend Jim Shannon who served in Committee and faithfully put forward the perspective that we hold on the need to protect the traditional definition of marriage. I also want to thank other hon. Members who share that view, including the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Spelthorne
I believe that marriage is foundational, that it is for one man and one woman, and that it ought not to be redefined. I believe that marriage is universal and not just for Christians, although I am a Christian and my stance on this issue, like that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is influenced by our Christian faith. I believe that marriage is for everyone, man and woman, who wants to take up that right in law. I believe that the definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman should stand. I believe that marriage is beneficial, and that it is for the mutual help and support of husband and wife and for the procreation of children.
Our opposition to the redefinition of marriage is not born of prejudice. It is not born of homophobia. It is born of a deep sense of our Christian faith, and I hope that that can be respected. Our Christian faith is important to us. It is what motivates us to take the stances that we take on many issues. It is shared by many people in our native Northern Ireland, where a high proportion of the population still go to church and more than half our children attend faith schools.
The Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted not to introduce same-sex marriage in our part of the United Kingdom. I welcome the commitment that the Minister has given to seek the consent of the Department for Finance and Personnel, which is responsible for this matter in Northern Ireland, before implementing any amendments that would have an impact there. Notwithstanding that, however, we remain opposed to the legislation in principle. I was a member of the Standing Committee that dealt with the Bill that became the Civil Partnership Act 2004. I remember pointing out at that time that civil partnerships would inevitably lead to a demand for same-sex marriage and being told by the then Government that that was nonsense, that we were scaremongering and that it would not happen.
Yvette Cooper tells us that marriage has changed and will change in the future. When we talk about equality in marriage, where do we draw the line? There are some in this country who believe that marriage should be between a man and more than one woman. Will we not, in time, hear another demand for equality—the demand that a man who wants to be married to more than one woman should have that right enshrined in law? If marriage is to change in the future, will not the House, in time, be presented with proposals to give effect to the demand for equality for those who want to be married to more than one partner?
We are told that we are on the wrong side of history. Well, time will tell whether those of us who take the stand that we are taking are on the wrong side of history. I have heard that argument many times in the past, and I have watched as the House has legislated time and again to undermine some of the fundamental building blocks of our society. I look around me, and I see the harm that that does to our society.
I will tell you this, Mr. Speaker. In respect of the Abortion Act 1967, I know that Northern Ireland is on the right side of history, because we refused to accept that legislation. The fact is that 8 million unborn children have not had the opportunity of life because of bad legislation in this House.
I think that, when it comes to the wrong side of history, time will tell, and the judgment will come. I am happy, and my party is happy, to stand on our beliefs, and we ask for them to be respected. We may, in the end, lose the vote in this House, but that does not alter our opinion that this is bad legislation and that it is wrong.
Some of the arguments about the right side and the wrong side of history were advanced at the time when civil partnerships were introduced. I was not in the House then, so I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman made the case or whether other members of his party did, but the case was made by some that the introduction of civil partnerships would lead to the decline of society in some way. In my urban constituency in Battersea, it is not people coming together in love to form committed relationships who cause a problem; it is families breaking up in rancour who cause real distress in my community.
I hear the hon. Lady’s point, but in the context of this Bill, I simply do not agree that when we tamper with the fundamentals of our society, the result is necessarily a good thing for our society and beneficial in the long run. I believe in the traditional definition of marriage; I believe in the traditional concept of marriage and I believe that the Bill undermines that. I therefore believe that the House is making a mistake in pressing ahead with it.
The stance that my party takes is not without support out there across this nation. We may be a small party in a small region of the United Kingdom, but on this issue we speak for millions of people across the United Kingdom who share our view. We tamper with these things and change these laws, and we may well come to regret the things that we sometimes do in this House and the legislation that we pass. Our party makes no apology for taking this stance, therefore.
This evening, we stood outside with some of the Christian people who have gathered outside this building. They are very hurt. We talk about pain and hurt. There are a lot of Christians across this country, and also Muslims and Jews—people of strong faith—who are hurt by this Bill. I hope that will be borne in mind.
I want to thank the hundreds and thousands of my constituents who have written to me in support of the stance I and my colleagues have taken on this issue. Tonight, they will feel very sad indeed.
First, I want to thank the Clerks in the Public Bill Office for their patience, diligence and fairness in dealing with all the draft amendments that were submitted in the Bill Committee and the remaining stages.
We are in an extraordinary situation for what is the Third Reading of a Bill that redefines marriage, and I never thought our Government would have done this.
There was no clear manifesto commitment, no coalition agreement on it and no Green Paper—there was just a sham consultation—and there are no significant amendments to the Bill beyond the civil partnerships review. We have had programme motions that have denied all MPs the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in detail. Consciences have been constrained. Indeed, a recent private poll of MPs showed that at least one third of Members did not believe they had a free vote on Second Reading. Let us see what happens on Third Reading, but that will no doubt create a concern in the other place when it comes to discuss the Bill on
We find ourselves in the unusual situation that none of the political parties put this in their manifesto. Does my hon. Friend agree that the other place will have complete legitimacy if it chooses to reject the Bill because the Salisbury convention should not apply here?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and the other place is certainly looking in great detail at the way we have handled the Bill.
I welcome, however, the fact that, after the 13 sittings of the Bill Committee and yesterday’s debates, the Government have finally recognised the concern that the impact of the Bill will go beyond the marriage ceremony. My constituents need an explicit assurance that the Bill will not curtail their reasonable expression of their belief in traditional marriage, so I welcome the Government’s late undertaking last night in relation to schools and free speech. We must go further than that, however. If Members believe in traditional marriage and in liberty, they should vote against the Bill on Third Reading.
I, in turn, want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his hard work in the Bill Committee. Was he encouraged by the Christian ladies and gentlemen who attended the Bill Committee over a period of five or six meetings and energetically supported us as members of it and by those who took part in the prayer vigil outside over the past two days and who prayed hard?
I do indeed welcome their prayerful support and, indeed, the fact that there has been engagement from those who are on all sides of the argument.
There has been much tolerance and respect in the debate from those on both sides of the House, but I must take this opportunity to say—I have informed Mr Lammy of my intention to do so—that there have been comments that have gone beyond tolerance. There have been intolerant comments that were, frankly, offensive to my constituents and many of his. How dare the right hon. Gentleman equate the position of Christian Members of Parliament such as me and others with the slave traders of Wilberforce’s time? Wilberforce supported traditional marriage and would, I am sure, have been on the side of the dissenters on the Bill.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that by playing the race card and accusing the Bill’s opponents of being in step with the racists and traffickers of years gone by, he is offending not just me—that does not matter—but the majority of the black and minority ethnic communities who are opposed to the Bill? He has offended the black majority Church leaders in his constituency and mine who wrote to The Times recently and said:
“If the Government gets its way, it will not be a victory for equality. Equality requires diversity, and diversity requires distinctiveness, and marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman… The Government is not respecting difference, and it is not promoting a plural society.”
Unfortunately, we are running out of time.
What is pernicious is equating hon. Members’ opposition to redefining marriage with previous discrimination on the basis of race. That plays into the hands of those who have accused me and many hon. Members of being homophobic or bigoted simply for standing up for marriage—[Interruption.] I will give way to the right hon. Member for Tottenham shortly. Such intolerant reaction to our belief in marriage runs the risk of being fomented by the state orthodoxy in the Bill about the new gender-neutral meaning of marriage. For our constituents—those who really matter—those who disagree risk vilification and discrimination and they certainly will not get the protection they deserve under the Equality Act 2010.
I am greatly saddened that the hon. Gentleman chose to use the term “playing the race card”. My comments were merely sited in an understanding of equality. There have been many battles on equality in this House. The battles against slavery, racism and sexism were noble, and many people outside the House will recognise that the fight for gay rights is one of equality; it is not playing—
Order. Mr Burrowes must have a chance to finish his speech.
The Bill is triumphed over as being all about inclusivity, when what it has done has caused division, not just in the Conservative party—that is not the most relevant point—but in the country. The settled, respected position on supporting civil partnerships and the previously united concept of marriage between Church and state have now had a wedge driven between them by the Bill. Indeed, we had late resolutions to try to deal with the inequalities that are still apparent. What unites the opposition to the Bill is an unshakeable belief that will not accept the state’s redefinition of marriage and will recognise only the distinctive value of marriage as the bringing together of one man and one woman.
Throughout its passage through the House, the Bill has lacked legitimacy and scrutiny. I urge all hon. Members to exercise their consciences, listen to the real concerns of their constituents and join me in voting no on Third Reading.
This is a great day for Parliament and for the country, and I pay tribute to the Government and the Prime Minister for showing the political courage necessary to prioritise this legislation. I pay tribute to those on my Front Bench for their constructive approach, which will make it more likely that the Bill will eventually become an Act.
My only regret is that the debate is taking place in the absence of David Cairns, the late Member for Inverclyde, who was known, liked and respected by Members from all parts of the House. David was never defined by his sexuality, but he certainly found happiness and completion in his relationship with his partner, Dermot. I have no doubt at all that were he alive today he would be voting enthusiastically for the measure before us. Even though his name no longer appears on the list of voting Members of this House, I will feel David beside me as I walk through the Aye Lobby at 7 o’clock.
Order. In view of the level of interest, I am reducing the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to three minutes with immediate effect.
On Second Reading, I talked about many of the letters of concern that I had received from constituents and reflected that that conflict was one that I had had in my life. My hon. Friend Margot James talked movingly yesterday about the freezing effect, and she is right about that period. To realise that you were gay in that climate was difficult, to say the least, but I was one of the lucky ones. I had two great parents who supported me through that difficult time.
Religious faith is not just the preserve of heterosexuals. One of my hardest challenges was balancing my sexuality with my faith. It has taken me years to do that, and as I said at the time, some of those battles were the hardest and darkest in my life.
I am grateful for that intervention and yes, I certainly welcome that.
In the context of the Bill, I understand the anxieties of people involved in religious organisations, but I am convinced by the evidence sessions and the questioning that the locks in place secure and protect those religious freedoms. We have heard a great deal about the Church of England in these debates; there are debates within the Church of England too. I went to my own church and was a little anxious about facing people there and discussing this issue, but the majority in the room supported the Bill.
Despite the fact that my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes and I disagree, I pay tribute to him for his diligence in his analysis and scrutiny of the Bill. I sincerely appreciate his calm and measured tone. I just wish that that tone could have been adopted by everyone. The extremes on both sides of the cause have not acted well, and it has been disappointing, to say the least, over the past few months to hear some of the phrases used. Yesterday, the term “aggressive homosexuals” was just one such phrase.
To that I say this: I am not an aggressive man, but I have had the misfortune of facing aggression in a violent, physical form, and no, I am not referring to that incident. [Interruption.] In 1997, I was attacked and beaten unconscious by three men because of who and what I am. That had a profound effect on me at that time, but in time I fought back, and what helped were the decisions taken in this place. Through a series of Acts, this House brought equality nearer. Where legislation led, society followed, and over time that balance changed and our society became more tolerant. Each small step forward felt like a huge leap forward for me personally.
I joined the Conservative party for a host of reasons, two of them being a belief in freedom of choice and in allowing people to live their lives as they choose. This Bill has the protections for religious organisations that mean that they have the freedom to choose not to marry same-sex couples, but people like me and many others have the freedom to choose to marry the person they love. It therefore strikes the right balance.
So much has been said about same-sex marriage over the past couple of days. It is important on the occasion of Third Reading to return to the fundamental principle that underpins what we are trying to achieve. That principle is equality. Ultimately, this is about basic human rights. Nobody should be denied on the basis of their sexuality the opportunity to be legally married.
We are righting a wrong and I urge Members in the other place to remember that when they consider the Bill. Peers, including some but not all bishops, recognised the justice of introducing civil partnerships back in 2004, and I hope they will also recognise the justice of now granting same-sex couples the choice to enter into marriage, especially as the Bill has gone to great lengths to protect important religious freedoms.
Colleagues have remarked on the historic nature of the decisions being taken, and I agree. We live in a world where 85 United Nations member states still have repressive laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, where same-sex marriage is still a distant dream, and where being L,G, B or T can in some cases be a death sentence. But some dreams come true, and today is an important symbolic as well as practical step forward for equality and human rights.
I met a very inspiring campaigner at a trans networking event in Parliament the other day whose business card carried the strapline, “Tolerance is not good enough”.
That neatly sums up what I want to say. Tolerance is important, yes, but we need to carry on for more than that. We need to fight for true justice, for true equality, for true LGBT rights, as well as for tolerance. For me, that also has to include the issue of equal pension rights for those in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships. I am saddened that we have not made more progress on that here today, but I hope very much that it will be taken forward in the other place, as I hope will righting some of the injustices that still remain for the trans community.
But today on Third Reading is a time for celebration. For many hundreds of constituents from Brighton, Pavilion who have written to me in support of same-sex marriage, this Bill is about their lives, their loves and their futures together. I have heard many stories about why this legislation is important, including from one constituent who simply said, “Everyone should have the right to marry the person they are in love with.” Another told me that she hopes Brighton and Hove will be the first city to perform a gay marriage. To her I say, “Watch this space.”
I also thank those people against changing the law who have lobbied me, all of whom have been respectful of my position and my right to support same-sex marriage. I know it is difficult for some to square the Bill with their understanding of marriage, but I maintain that it is wrong for gay couples to continue to pay the price for that by being denied equality. Equality and justice must underpin everything else—a principle and a priority, not just something tacked on to existing pledges to try to attract more votes. The majority view in the House today has reflected that, and I hope that it will continue to do so as we vote on Third Reading.
It is a great pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas who puts her case, as usual, with great sincerity. I will be voting against Third Reading tonight, partly because I think that the Bill is wrong; marriage is between a man and a woman. My real motive for voting against Third Reading, however, is the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. We are yet again dealing with an amazing piece of important legislation that owing to the programme motion is going through without proper scrutiny in the House. Yesterday, whole parts of the Bill could not be amended because consideration of the amendments were not reached. I cannot even talk about those amendments tonight because I would be out of order. So we have again to allow the other place to decide on the amendments to a hugely important constitutional Bill.
It seems extraordinary to me that for the Third Reading debate Back Benchers have been allowed 40 minutes, and you, Mr. Speaker, have had to impose a three-minute limit to allow as many as possible to speak. The idea that we can compare this to the days of Wilberforce, when he would talk for three, four or five hours, is absolutely ridiculous. I would go back to that system, and I suggest that my hon. Friend Mr Chope might agree. We should not have had the closure every evening. Why could we not have talked until 10 or 11 o’clock tonight on Third Reading so that Members could have made their points? I would then have been much happier when the Division came that all the differences had been properly considered. I will end there, because other hon. Members want to speak, but I urge all hon. Members, for the sake of Parliament, to oppose Third Reading.
I simply wanted to say what a momentous piece of legislation this is. Some things we do in the House of Commons do not affect ordinary people at all; some things we do in the House of Commons are best ignored; but this Bill will make a lot of people’s lives much better. I have supported this cause all my political life, long before it was fashionable on the Labour Benches, and I never thought I would live to see the day when the Bill would approach its Third Reading.
Members have talked about their constituents. I remind the House that I represent some people who are troubled by the Bill. Some of them come from countries where homosexuality is illegal. Some of them come from countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. I have had to say to them, “I respect your views, but I have stood for human rights all my life and I stand for human rights on this issue too.”
We could not let this debate pass without mentioning all the ordinary people, all the grass-roots campaigners, who made it possible for us to reach this point. I think not just of people involved in their local or national campaign, but of the ordinary people who have showed kindness and decency and who accepted a child when that child was not expecting acceptance. They all played their part. We could not have this debate without mentioning Peter Tatchell, not always the easiest of comrades, but someone who has devoted his life to human rights. We could not have this debate without mentioning Ken Livingstone, who was the first local authority leader to bring in civil partnerships and show the wider political world that we could have civil partnership without the end of the world as we knew it. And of course there is Tony Blair, who brought in civil partnerships in the last Parliament.
Some people listening to this debate will be thinking, “This is all very well, but there is war in Syria, climate change and a huge economic crisis, so why does this matter?” Let me tell the House why it matters. When this legislation finally goes through, there will be adolescents going to bed that night who are struggling with their sexuality and who, knowing that the law has gone through, will think as they go to sleep, “Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe my life isn’t ruined. Maybe I can find some acceptance. Maybe I can come out to my friends, and maybe even to my mother and father.” If this debate and this legislation makes the lives of so many hundreds of thousands of young people just a little better, we will have done great work in the House tonight.
Order. I call Dr Julian Huppert. If he can speak more briefly—he does not have to—more Members will get in.
I will try, Mr Speaker.
On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we believe that the state should not bar a couple who love each other from marrying just because of their gender or sexuality, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or whatever, and that the state should not ban groups who wish to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so.
This is an important day, and it is a day to celebrate. When my party passed a motion on equal marriage in the UK three years ago, I did not think that we would be able to get to this legislation so quickly. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Lynne Featherstone, the previous Equalities Minister, for her determination which has transformed the issue and made sure that we could get here. I also pay tribute to the two Stephens, my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) and for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who served on the Bill Committee. The Bill is right today and will seem even more right in future. In five, 10 and 20 years’ time, we will look back and see that it was the right thing to do.
I am proud of the Bill as it is, although it could be better, and we have discussed some of the possible improvements over the past two days. Equal civil partnership is the right thing in theory and in practice, so we need to find the right opportunity and the right vehicle for introducing that. We have heard no good reason why in principle humanists should not be allowed to conduct weddings. The Attorney-General is an excellent lawyer, so I am sure that he will be able to find a way to ensure that we allow that to happen legally.
This is a very positive day, but we should remember that there is still homophobia and transphobia in the UK, and it is even worse in other parts of the world, where people fear for their lives and it is illegal for them to be who they are. We must take steps to ensure that that finally ends. We must not send people back to places where they will be persecuted for who they are. I urge all hon. Members to support the Bill.
This is not the most important thing to come before the House in this Parliament, or even this year, but it is a really good thing. I am delighted that the most celebrated friend in my household, loved by me, my wife and my three children, will have the chance, if he wants, to marry the man he loves. I did not come into politics to be defined by what I am against; I want to be defined by what I am for. Tonight is a good night.
I know that for some this is a day for self-congratulation. Others in our society and our country are deeply wounded. I humbly and unashamedly confess that I am a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. I fear that in many ways our nation is swiftly turning its back on many of the great principles it was built upon. Some suggest that we hold on to our traditional views of marriage because of culture or tradition, but I do not believe that that is so. I believe the biblical definition of marriage. I did not make it up; God gave it to us in his precious word.
Some have suggested that over the years religious organisations and church councils have changed their mind on a number if issues, and indeed some have already changed their opinion on the definition of marriage. That might be so, but the word of God, by which all men and women shall be judged on the day of judgment, and the standards revealed therein have not changed. Man may have changed, but God’s word has not. We may be a nation that seeks to go back to the days of Judges, when
“every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
I suggest that this legislation will bring our nation many problems, whether for teachers or in our day schools. Indeed, I certainly pray that God will deliver us even when the Bill goes to another place.
We are on the edge of a profound social change. What a pity there was nothing in the manifesto. What a pity we did not have a Committee stage on the Floor of the House. What a pity we had only two hours to discuss the protection of people in the workplace. This change has been made tonight without full discussion; now it is over to the other place.
The Bill passed its Second Reading by 400 votes to 175. The amendments wrecking it were rejected by seven to one.
We last redefined marriage in 1973 when we brought in the prohibition on same-sex marriage. I think it is time to undo that and define marriage as being between two people who are qualified to marry.