Report on civil partnership

Part of Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:49 am on 26th October 2018.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 11:49 am, 26th October 2018

There are many extremely good things in this Bill, the first being the righting of the wrong, which has been in existence since the Victorian era, of not being able to include mothers’ names on marriage certificates. When I got married in 2012 and was told I could not include my mother’s name, I thought that there had been a mistake and that they were using an old book. I had not realised that the law could still be so ridiculously out of date in the modern era. Members such as Mrs Hodgson and my hon. Friend Julian Knight have reminded us that that is a really important change for some people.

Likewise, the opportunity for parents who have lost a baby before 24 weeks to register the life of their child is hugely important, as are the new powers for coroners. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) on all the work they have done on that hugely important subject.

I rise today, however, with more mixed emotions than ever before about any proposed legislation, because I do not agree with the extension of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. To be clear, I support—and supported—equal marriage for gay people. I ran the think-tank Policy Exchange at the time—I was not in this House—and published a paper arguing in favour of it. I thought, and still think, that it was really important for everybody to be treated the same and for everybody to be able to get married, as a further step towards reducing prejudice against gay people in this country.

It is very easy for heterosexual people not to notice the high levels of prejudice that continue to exist in this country, even in this modern era, and not to see that suicide rates for gay people are still higher. I went to school in the 1990s, which was not that long ago, and remember a lad walking up four flights of stairs with kids all around him chanting, “Gay. Gay. Gay.” at him. I do not even know if he was gay, but I am sure he remembers that and will do so for the rest of his life. It is a reminder that prejudice is still out there and still very strong. So, for me, equal marriage was a really important and brilliant reform.

Civil partnerships, however, were, for me, only ever a stepping stone towards creating equal marriage. I thought that, rather than creating two types of marriage, we should have got rid of civil partnerships at the point when marriage was opened up to same-sex couples.

I respect and understand why other Members do not agree with that, and we have heard some of those arguments today. However, I do not accept in particular the argument that we should legislate in this House today because there has been a court case. I think that it is profoundly the business of elected politicians in this House to make such decisions, not unelected judges across the road.