Schedule 6 — Marriage overseas

Part of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 21st May 2013.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey 6:44 pm, 21st May 2013

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.