My Lords, we have heard some stirring speeches today. No one doubts their sincerity and commitment. I particularly want to thank the Minister for the way she contributed to the debate in her opening speech, and the tone she set. That tone has been followed throughout the day. I also want to thank the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Smith, for their personal testimony of what it means to be homosexual, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as well. We need to hear those kinds of stories and take them into our system, so that we can think more about them in the days ahead.
In three weeks’ time my wife and I will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. I know that some Members of this House can claim to have served longer in the marital stakes than we have, but whether we have been married for just a few months, for as long as I have or for longer—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has the edge on me—all of us can say that along with the joy, the difficulties and some tragedies that happen to us on the way, marriage is at the heart of human love and society.
Those of us who were married according to the Book of Common Prayer will recall the preface to the wedding service:
“And therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly”.
Although addressed to the couple, the words can bear the broader meaning that nobody should take marriage lightly or indifferently. It is the view of many people that, sadly, this has happened and is happening. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his brave speech, gave voice to that. We are treating it all too lightly.
The Conservative Party knows that if the intention to widen marriage to include same-sex couples had been put in its manifesto, it would not have been in a position to form a coalition. Discussion of this fundamental building block of society—we have all described it as that—has been thwarted at every turn. There has not been a proper debate, and the consultative process has been a shambles because, right from the outset, the Government have made it clear that the consultation has never been about whether same sex couples should marry, but how it might be achieved.
That is now behind us, but there is a proper question that has come through our debate today, and it is one that I have heard from same-sex couples. They ask, “When you talk about celebrating married love, why can't it be for us as well?” That is a very important question that we need to face up to. Those proposing change usually argue, as they have done today, in terms of equality. But with respect, we are told that those in same-sex relationships already have parity with marriage through civil partnerships, which give them equal rights. Equality is hardly the right term to use when comparing same-sex couples with those who are married, not least because marriage is not, and has never been, viewed in terms of sameness, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester mentioned earlier, but of difference—the difference of male and female, which creates and nourishes life.
Of course, marriage does not have to include children, but in the majority of cases it does. It is a procreative institution. This is the major and crucial difference between marriage and civil partnerships. This point has not come across as powerfully as it should. Those of us who are resisting change are not doing so because we are cussed or bigoted, but because of the fundamental principle that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. We should not fall into a trap. We have heard once or twice that morality is on only one side of this debate; it is not. Those of us who disagree are morally concerned about the issue as well.
I will end by making this point. I have no doubt whatever that should this Bill pass, marriage as we know it will be weakened and diminished. I do not believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will strengthen it, as the Home Secretary has declared on several occasions. Recent research in countries where the marriage of same-sex couples is already a reality shows the collapse of traditional marriages alongside same-sex marriages. When we vote on the Bill tomorrow, we need to bear this evidence in mind. We shall all follow our consciences, of course, but I shall keep faith with the institution of marriage as I have experienced it and as I have taught it. Therefore, I will vote for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear.