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

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.