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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 3rd June 2013.

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Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench 8:17 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, time is short and there are many speakers in this debate. Therefore, like others, I will aim to be concise. I have four comments to make about the Bill. In my opinion the process of the Bill is and has been flawed; the purpose of the Bill is misleading; the premise of the Bill is worrying; and the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive, and I regret that.

Allow me to substantiate those four assertions. First, the process of the Bill is flawed. Little I can say here is new, but the facts speak for themselves and are important and bear repetition. A Bill such as this did not feature explicitly in any of three major parties’ manifestos at the general election. It did not appear in either of the last two Queen’s Speeches. The formal consultation process, as we have heard, was purely on the basis of how this redefinition of marriage was to be conducted, not whether it should be conducted. At least that was how it was initially. Moreover the consultation counted only as one view the consolidated views of between half and two-thirds of a million citizens who signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, each giving verifiable addresses. Only a short period was allocated for debate in the other place, where there are also doubts—and they have been expressed today—as to how free the supposed free vote in the other place was, not to mention the composition of the committee that gave cursory consideration to the Bill.

Secondly, I suggest that the purpose of the Bill is misleading. It is supposed to redefine marriage so it becomes as equal an institution between same-sex couples as it is between a man and woman. This purpose is a contradiction in terms. A redefinition of marriage cannot bring equality. The defining process of marriage is consummation, which is for the entirely practical purpose of bringing children into the world—the creation of families which have been the building block of society for centuries. The marriage of two men or two women cannot naturally bring about the purpose of marriage; legally perhaps, but naturally not.

Thirdly, I believe the premise of the Bill is worrying. It is supposed to promote the rights of a minority within our population by affording that minority a supposed equality in marriage. I have already argued that that cannot be so, but in the erroneous pursuit of that supposed equality, a Bill that is designed to promote the interests of a minority itself becomes a powerful piece of legislation that threatens the traditional interests of a majority of our population. The supposed safeguards being written into the Bill to protect the rights of many sections of our society to express the traditional view of marriage in private and in public will not be worth the paper they are written on. The inexorable march of litigation will frustrate over time whatever Parliament may, or may not, have intended.

Fourthly, I fear that the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive. For decades there have been vigorous debates about the acceptability of homosexual orientation and lifestyles. Tempers have been raised and emotions have flowed, but whatever individuals thought about homosexual or heterosexual lifestyles, an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance has been established in all but the most narrow-minded circles. The tabling of the Bill runs the risk of driving a cart and horses through that atmosphere, which has been carefully built up, of acceptance building on previous tolerance. In 2008, I became the first chief of staff of any of the three armed services to give the opening address at the Armed Forces annual LGBT conference. My theme in that address focused on one of the Army’s six core values—respect for others. I may not personally have understood or approved the circumstances of those who were members of the Armed Forces LGBT community but I had an obligation to respect them as individuals. Such respect and tolerance are being severely challenged by this ill-thought-through Bill.

In conclusion, I soundly oppose this Bill for the four reasons I have given but if I had to pick one of them as my principal ground of objection and why I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow, it is the first one. I believe that the process of this Bill has, to date, been tantamount to an abuse of process which, as a member of the mother of Parliaments, I am deeply uncomfortable about. Following due democratic process and procedure is a principle that I spent the 40 years of my professional life as a soldier upholding. We fought for the ballot box against the Armalite for 38 years in Northern Ireland; we stood for democracy against communism for 44 years in Europe; we stood for the democratic right of self-determination in the Falklands in 1982 and still do; and now as a parliamentarian I am asked to accept an abuse of the democratic process, and I will not do it.

This Bill is of historic importance and in my view history will judge us poorly if this issue was thought to have been fast-tracked to the statute book without due regard to the established democratic and parliamentary processes.