My Lords, concern for social justice and human rights are basic to Sikh teaching, and I was delighted when the homosexual community was given full protection and dignity under the law through civil partnerships. It is, however, important to remember that social equality and respect for difference is quite different from the pursuit of uniformity and sameness and the deliberate masking of difference by changing the accepted meaning of language—in this case, the accepted meaning of marriage. In this, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The one fact of life is that we are all different. We all differ in our physical and mental attributes, and in our dislikes and preferences. Most people form opposite-sex partnerships, giving birth to children and nurturing them in the family unit. This type of relationship, defined by the parameters of declared commitment, consummation of the relationship and social commitment for the nurture and care of the family, has long been defined as marriage. Difference should be respected. While same-sex partnerships are primarily for adult companionship, they do not share the same social responsibilities and parameters that define “marriage” in so many different religions and cultures. What I fail to understand is the pretence that marriage, with its clearly defined parameters and attached responsibilities, is the same as same-sex adult companionship when everyone outside Westminster knows there is a world of difference.
There is no evidence of majority support for this measure, even in the gay community. In an article in the Daily Mail, the well known columnist Andrew Pierce writes that he is a gay man who opposes gay marriage. Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, who is in a civil partnership, is implacably opposed to gay marriage. David Starkey, the openly gay historian, is also opposed to the concept of gay marriage. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was the first Cabinet Minister to enter into a civil partnership, has openly criticised the idea of gay marriage, saying that the move to smash centuries of church teaching is “pure politics” and not wanted by the gay community, which has already won equality through civil partnerships.
There is no end of statistics which show that children’s life chances are linked to stable relationships to natural parents. If marriage is diluted to become no more than adult companionship, this will simply add to a growing focus on adult happiness to the inevitable neglect of our children, with more and more being taken into what we call care. If a committed relationship is all-important, where is the logic in not extending this to bigamous relationships? After all, there are more Muslims in this country than gays. Why discriminate against this particular religious community? Blind pursuit of unthinking equality can have unforeseen consequences. In mathematics, if you want to see where an equation is heading, you tend to take it towards infinity—look further down the line. Here we desperately need to look further down the line.
Much has been made of the so-called consultation process. Along with other members of the Inter Faith Network, I was invited to a consultation meeting and told that government policy would not be affected by our views. We are back to the world of Alice in Wonderland: sentence first, verdict after. The 87% majority against the measure has not only been ignored but turned round to claim a 57% vote in favour of the measure.
Government assurances that their lawyers see little likelihood of European human rights legislation being used to force people to act against their consciences inspire little confidence when we remember that the same lawyers said that there would be no problem deporting a certain Muslim cleric. It is in reality a measure that could well force many with sincerely held religious and ethical beliefs to either compromise those beliefs or lose their jobs. This has already happened to people like Adrian Smith, who was demoted and had his pay cut by 40% for saying—on his personal Facebook, in his own time—that gay marriages in churches would be an equality too far.
This is an ill thought-through measure that seeks to destroy a basic fundamental institution of society without any understanding or consideration of the consequences. It is a measure that has not been consulted on with the public at all and it has no mandate. For these reasons, I fully support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.