My Lords, the first thing I must say is that I have absolutely no choice about how I vote on this issue. The principle of marriage being a union between a man and a woman for life is sacred, and the role that it plays in binding together families and nurturing children is an indispensable part of the fabric of our country. That has always been one of my core beliefs and I cannot desert it now. I really do believe that if this Bill were to become law, untold and unforeseen damage would be done to our country and to how we see ourselves.
This issue is not like a debate and a vote on the National Health Service, on our nation’s defence or even on the structure of your Lordships’ House, important though those matters undoubtedly are. As far as I am concerned, this is a change that we should not even be contemplating or debating. The fact that we are is a very sad indicator of just how far our country has lost its moral compass or perhaps of just how wide now has grown the gulf between the people and those who govern them. I feel sure that millions of people share my beliefs and concerns to a greater or lesser extent and that, if this measure goes through, their belief in what their country stands for and the role of your Lordships’ House will be severely damaged.
If this proposal has genuine merit, what harm can voting against its Second Reading at this time honestly do? The worst that can happen is that the Bill will be delayed, giving time for government, all the political parties and the people in the country to think the matter through carefully. It can then be put forward again properly in a fair and honest way at the next general election, which is now not very far away. That is the worst that could happen.
But what is the worst that could happen if we allowed the Bill to pass its Second Reading without having thought carefully about all its ramifications, and without a proper political and national debate, which of necessity must be thorough and will take some time? I say that that would prove to be a disastrous course of action and one that we must set our faces against.
I beg noble Lords not to be bamboozled or seduced by the argument that says, “Just vote for the Second Reading and all your concerns will be ironed out at the Committee stage”. Once your Lordships have agreed to a Second Reading, the game is lost; they have sold the pass. A question of principle becomes a war of attrition in which the Government almost always prevail. Noble Lords should remember that they will constantly be told, “Well, you voted for it at Second Reading”.
The role of this House, and its legitimacy and relevance in the world today, are constantly being questioned—not, I hasten to add, by me. I have the utmost faith that this House will always do the right thing at the right time. However, these questions still hang over us.
Let us be honest: there is no desire or support for this Bill in the country. This is surely the moment to demonstrate our relevance, our understanding and our purpose in a way that will earn the undying gratitude of many immediately and, I believe, the vast majority of the British people when they come to understand what really was at stake. I will certainly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow.