Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:28 pm on 3rd June 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Richardson of Calow Baroness Richardson of Calow Crossbench 7:28 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, as speaker 31 of 94 I am already beginning to feel that most points have been made; forgive me if I repeat some of them. I am a Methodist minister, and I have the privilege of leading many couples through their vows and in a great celebration, in a liturgical way, in church. I believe in marriage. I believe that marriage is the bedrock of our society and brings stability to our communities. I believe that marriage is the best place where children can be nurtured. It is for those reasons that I support this Bill.

Like all of us, I have had many letters and e-mails on the Bill. Some have suggested that of course I will agree to support traditional marriage based on biblical principles. To one of them I am afraid I replied that I hoped he would start at the beginning of the Bible at Genesis and try to find one man and one woman in a committed relationship that had been freely chosen. He would have had an awful long read.

There has always been the suggestion that biblical principles have been used on occasion to support the subjugation of women and the primacy of men. These are things that we have had to contend with. When the Christian church began to look in its societies and move beyond Jerusalem, it had to come to terms with the fact that it was moving into different cultures. There was always the question of whether to challenge the culture or whether to adapt the faith you have received in order to cope with the culture into which you have moved.

Today, as many have said, we are moving into a different culture and we cannot rely on the old ways, simply saying that we will remain faithful to what we once knew. Equality and freedom, life expectancy, control of reproduction and a deeper understanding of sexual orientation have all affected our understanding of what marriage truly is, as have the negative principles of marital breakdown and broken relationships.

Although I would like to do so, I cannot speak on behalf of the Methodist church because it is still considering what its response will be if the Bill becomes law. However, the Methodist church has always based its moral and ethical values on the fourfold foundation of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Twenty years ago, the Methodist church committed itself to listening attentively to the experience of those for whom a committed heterosexual relationship would not be possible. I think that we must listen attentively to the experience of today, listen to those for whom a lifelong, loving, faithful, joyful and sacrificial relationship can be achieved only in a same-sex partnership. We also have to listen to the responses that some of us have received from those who bear witness, from childcare and adoption agencies, to the value of same-sex partnerships in the bringing up of children and the overwhelmingly positive signs of good relationships.

We have to listen to the experiences of people and bring to bear our scriptural understanding to the experience which is equally valid under God. The depth and quality of relationships that have already been achieved in civil partnerships shows us that they are almost indistinguishable from the relationships experienced in heterosexual marriage. We have to bear witness to that. But we ask: why is it necessary to change if this is already provided for in our society? The one thing that is often missing is a deep acceptance that these relationships are equally valid and fruitful, and that they, too, form the bedrock of our society. They help to build up our communities. That is often missing. If it cannot be called marriage, it is seen to be a second-class relationship; we must address that. I also believe that if this is addressed in society, it may be the encouragement that the churches need in order to move into a different relationship. I long for and look forward to the time when these relationships can be celebrated within our liturgies and in our church life. I hope profoundly that it will become a reality in my lifetime. For all these reasons, I hope that the Bill progresses to further discussion and that it is passed.