My Lords, that is a very moving speech to follow. I have great difficulty with the Bill, over which I have anguished. However, for the constitutional reason set out by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I shall vote for its Second Reading and for it to go into Committee.
The truth is that I cannot get my head round two people of the same sex being in a relationship defined as a marriage, however much they love each other. I hold to a simple traditional view that the word “marriage” can apply only in heterosexual relationships. I need to make it absolutely clear that, as a Labour Peer, I have always supported equality for gay men and women. I have voted repeatedly and consistently over 30 years for the developing gay agenda. I have a whole file of letters from Stonewall and others thanking me for my support as each and every measure has been brought before Parliament. I have huge admiration for Peter Tatchell’s drive and courage, and will never forget the experience of knocking on doors in the Bermondsey by-election some 30 years ago when he was the subject of a vitriolic gay-bashing campaign run by the then Liberal Party. We have come a long way since then.
My problem is over the use of the word “marriage”. I see it as distinct from civil partnership. I have no problem with the union between two persons of the same sex being given full recognition before God and being blessed in church or wherever. I have no problem with pension-splitting, inheritance tax management or anything that seeks equality with heterosexual couples, provided that we have safeguards against abuse just as we have under current marriage arrangements. Furthermore, I do not want to test the patience of the House by repeating arguments that have already been made on the need to maintain a distinction between marriage and civil partnership.
However, I need to call in aid speeches made by two Members of the other House, both leading gay rights campaigners, during the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. The first was by Alan Duncan MP, who stated from the Conservative Front Bench, when defining the distinction between marriage and civil partnership, that,
“the two institutions are designed on similar lines, but they are designed on parallel lines; and parallel lines, as we all know, never meet. They are separate institutions for different groups of people. Gay men and lesbians are different precisely because of who they love, so the formal recognition of that love will itself create differences”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 12/10/04; col. 184.]
He went on to argue further that,
“the clear distinction between a civil … partnership and the institution of marriage will, in my view, be preserved”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 12/10/04; col. 185.]
So when he was considering that Bill he recognised the validity of the distinction that I believe in.
Then we have the comments of Chris Bryant MP in the same debate, who said:
“I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense—several people have used the offensive phrase—because they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct”.—[Hansard, Commons, 12/10/04; col. 228.]
Later, on Report, Chris Bryant, who has led the campaign on these matters in the other House, made himself absolutely clear when he stated that,
“I believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman”.—[Hansard, Commons, 9/11/04; col. 810.]
For some reason, he has changed his mind over the past eight years but his position then is my position now. We are arguing over the use of a word—an argument that we thought was settled in 2004 when we approved the Civil Partnership Bill. Some of us want to retain the word for heterosexual unions, maintaining the distinction. Others want to fuse the two and end the distinction. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, earlier.
I will support the Bill going into Committee. The Bill is not a manifesto Bill but a free-vote Bill, and was carried by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. Two-thirds of the House of Commons voted for it, one of the biggest majorities in years. It was sent to us to be scrutinised—not blocked or destroyed. It would be a complete betrayal of our responsibilities if this unelected House, where we all sit by way of patronage, was to block a Bill carried on a free vote in the elected House of Commons on the scale that it was a month ago. Our role is to revise Bills, not kill Bills, and I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, not to push his amendment to the vote.