My Lords, first, I take this opportunity to thank the very many members of the public who have taken the trouble to write to me on this topic. Clearly there is much to be said on both sides of the argument. Feelings and emotions are very strong in both directions. To those I have not been able to respond to by now, I apologise. However, their correspondence has prompted me to speak, as well as vote, even though so many of your Lordships are also down to participate.
Do I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dear? The degree of change envisaged in the Bill to the concepts of marriage—both contemporary and historical concepts—is far more than a mere expansion of meaning on the grounds of equality of treatment. Supportive and caring relationships between two individuals may well be as similar in same-sex as in opposite-sex unions and, of course, are to be welcomed. However, there the similarity or equality ends. Part of the traditional meaning of marriage embraces its consequences—the consequences of sexual intercourse and of procreation, to say nothing of the concepts of adultery or non-consummation. Marriage is far more than a wedding day, an exchange of vows, the honeymoon and mutual support. I know; I have been married happily for 58 years and have children and grandchildren. So I think it is a travesty of interpretation to claim that marriage under this Bill and traditional marriage are so similar as to be categorised and recorded by lexicon as the same.
What has had less emphasis in much of the discussion of this Bill is the issue of unintended consequences if it were to pass into law. Marriage rights have been abused, for example, by foreigners who seek to gain permanent right of abode in this country by contracting a sham heterosexual marriage with a resident. Is there anything in this Bill to prevent same-sex individuals from abusing these proposed new arrangements in this way, or a priest from offering his services for payment or being bribed to enable a same-sex couple to obtain a marriage, a union, of convenience and thus to gain residence for both in England or Wales?
How soon might we see an individual claiming that his human rights are being denied because being married to a man does not allow him the same conjugal rights as if he were married to a woman? Therefore, he might argue, why should he not be allowed to be married both to another man and also—not alternatively—to a woman? It might not be a much greater step beyond that for individuals to argue that a threesome or foursome union would more suit their shared and mutual feelings of love and commitment. Could that, too, be called a marriage?
How much further away from the canon laws that prohibit near relatives from marriages between opposite sexes will the proposals for same-sex unions be compared and allowed to depart? Will the canon laws themselves, in turn, be challenged? Such laws do not have the same rationale in same-sex unions. Where is the equality in that? What would be the financial implications of such extensions to marriage so far as the Treasury is concerned?
Should not all of these and many more unintended consequences of this rushed and, I fear, ill conceived Bill give this House pause for thought and sound reason to discard it now? I strongly endorse the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear.