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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:04 pm on 3rd June 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Marquess of Lothian The Marquess of Lothian Conservative 8:04 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Singh. I totally endorse his conclusion and I will come to the reasons for that. As the 38th speaker, it is very difficult to make a constructive speech one way or the other on this issue, because all the arguments have been made not just once but many times.

What I would like to do, therefore, as briefly as I can, is to share one or two thoughts and concerns with your Lordships. Unlike my noble friends Lord Black— whose speech moved me—and Lord Dobbs, who said that they were voting the way they were because they were Conservatives, I oppose this Bill not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative. There are thousands of Conservatives around the country who take precisely that view.

I am a Conservative who came into politics initially at the time of Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan believed that the duty of a Conservative was to conserve and protect that which was good and to replace and mend only that which had had its day or was broken. This Bill defies that principle. It is profoundly un-Conservative. Marriage is not broken. I have not heard anybody today suggest that it is. It is good and we should be seeking to conserve and protect it. Instead, this Bill seeks fundamentally to alter it.

Undeniably, throughout history marriage has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, set out a whole row of ways in which the process of marriage has altered over the past 200 years. I can add to that. I am a Scottish lawyer. When I was called to the Bar in Scotland you could get married across an anvil at Gretna Green. You could also get married to what was known as your bidie-in, your long-term partner; if you had been living with them long enough you could go to the law and say, “Can you please now pronounce us man and wife?”. That was all that had to be done. Those are gone now. The form of marriage has altered.

However, one fundamental thing has never altered: marriage is between a man and a woman. Even when we heard talk about polygamous marriages, the sexual relations within those marriages were between a man and woman. That is what is fundamentally being destroyed in this Bill. It seeks within our law profoundly to alter the meaning of marriage.

Let me make one thing aggressively clear. I am not in any way anti-gay. Nobody who knows me would ever accuse me of being so. I have attended wonderful celebrations of civil partnerships where same-sex couples who are my friends have expressed their love and commitment to each other and I have rejoiced in being able to rejoice with them. This Bill is not about being pro- or anti- gay. That is a dishonest argument by those who make it, and does them absolutely no credit.

Rather—and this is my main concern—this Bill is highly offensive to many decent, tolerant and moderate Christians and to many decent, tolerant and moderate Muslims, and indeed to many others, including people of no religion at all, who see it understandably as an attack on something they hold very special and very dear and which has been held so for many years before them. They are angered by the fact that they were not consulted about this. They were not asked about it before the previous election. The consultations that have taken place have not even asked them whether they agreed with it; they were asked only whether they agreed with the way it was going to be taken forward. They quite rightly feel they have been excluded from something which matters desperately to them—not because they are bigoted or swivel-eyed, but because they are part of a culture, as am I, that believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.

This Bill does not create the much vaunted equality in marriage. It establishes two different sorts of marriage: statutory gay marriage on the one hand and what I believe will become known as real or traditional marriage on the other. When I talk about real marriage, I am talking about the marriage that people instinctively believe is between a man and a woman. Of course, Parliament is sovereign. Within its own jurisdiction it can change the legal definition of marriage. I have to accept that. This Bill may well do so. But for all its sovereignty, what Parliament cannot do is change the fundamental meaning of marriage any more than King Canute, for all his sovereignty, could order and change the running of the tide—and that indeed was the point he was trying to make when he placed his chair in the sea as the tide came in.

As a result, this un-thought out Bill, which has not tested its own principles of equality and has not looked at all the anomalies it is creating, is going to divide our society rather than unite it; far from equalising, it is going to create discriminations. We will come on to some of those when we get to Committee. Some of those discriminations are very real indeed. Far from achieving understanding, it is already creating confusion. Far from building harmony, it will create disharmony, anger and long-lasting hurt. For that reason I will be voting for the amendment tomorrow.