My Lords, I regret that I cannot wholly follow or agree with the noble Baroness. Many speakers today have pointed to the social changes of the past 50 or more years. I do not, however, believe that progress is either automatic or linear. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the proponents of change must justify their case to the full.
I regret very much that the fine old English and French word “gay” has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority of the population. The result is that it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning. Now, under the pretext of securing equality, Her Majesty’s Government are proposing to change the meaning of marriage. It is surprising that the leaders of the Conservative Party, who might be expected to uphold traditional values, should lend themselves to this attempt. My noble friend Lord Dear and others have pointed out the constitutional and procedural defects of this Bill, so I will not repeat them. I do however agree with those who have identified unintended and unanticipated consequences.
After these criticisms, I will try to be constructive. Civil partnerships are already recognised in and defined by law. Surely the whole country should regard them as being an honourable status not to be entered into lightly but rather with the intention of permanence, as several noble Lords have already argued. Why should civil marriage be considered a second-best choice or a “make do”, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, put it, which somehow must be promoted to equality with marriage? Those who are in or who propose to enter civil partnerships have a responsibility to live in such a way that their status deserves as much respect as that of married couples.
I conclude that the whole matter has not been adequately considered. It urgently needs further and deeper thought. We should not be rushed off our feet just because some other countries have already legislated for same-sex marriage or because the Bill may be needed to cement the coalition. There is ample evidence that public opinion, including medical opinion, is against the Bill. I therefore support my noble friend Lord Dear and will vote for his amendment. I commend his courage and thoroughness.