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Schedule 6 — Marriage overseas

Part of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 21st May 2013.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 5:58 pm, 21st May 2013

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.