My Lords, I have been moved and very humbled by the intensity of the letters that I have received on this subject, on both sides of the debate. I have huge respect for the conflicting and deeply felt views. I have enjoyed some excellent speeches today. The contributions of those such as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, are the best possible response to alleged mistakes by some Members of this Chamber, and to our critics.
I have also been surprised. Two of my closest friends, who are gay, are very uncomfortable with the idea of marriage. Many more, though, feel deeply insulted that they cannot share in the full rights of partnership that are accorded to heterosexual couples, and that they are somehow treated as second-class citizens. Equally, it makes little sense that a man and a woman cannot enter into a civil partnership, but that argument should not derail the express train that is currently racing through Parliament—and sometimes we all look forward to the arrival of an express train.
In my recent maiden speech, I mentioned the centenary of my godfather, Benjamin Britten, Lord Britten of Aldeburgh. When I think of his wonderful relationship with the tenor Peter Pears and, if I may put it like this, the musical children that resulted from it—works such as “Peter Grimes”, “Billy Budd” and the “Serenade”—I cannot but recall that theirs was for many years an illegal, criminal relationship, if in every other conceivable way a marvellous and inspiring marriage. Mercifully, times have changed.
In the other place, we heard dire warnings that this is only the beginning of homosexual aspiration. To many loving couples it is the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of an inequality that they feel does not accord their love the same profound dignity as is given to men and women. Since many men and women who get married have no intention of creating children, to see marriage as instituted purely for procreation, wonderful though that is, is to take a somewhat narrow and blinkered view of where we now are in our society. This House, and indeed Parliament, must now be visionary. In 50 years’ time, probably much less, I suspect that we will look back and see gay marriage as having been as inevitable as the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the decriminalising of homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Among your Lordships, I would probably be among the last to have a direct line to the thinking of the
Almighty, but I imagine that the love of human beings for each other would shine out radiantly as a presiding desire—transcending, and regardless of, gender or the semantics and legalese of how those attachments are formulated in contract. Finally, having admitted that I do not have a hotline to the Almighty, I now feel slightly more that I resemble a parrot because this has been said many times before. However, I must end with it. The vote in the other place was a free vote and that means, if I understand it correctly, that it has a democratic mandate that this House normally feels it must bow before. For that reason, and the others I have mentioned, I will very happily support the Bill.