My Lords, we have heard some very powerful and moving speeches this afternoon. I heard every one of them and I found this to be a rather emotionally draining debate. I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, and my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, and nobody could have listened to their powerful pleas without being moved by them. It is therefore all the more difficult to take a different line. I find myself very much in sympathy with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Anderson, said and, above all, with much of what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said.
There is a fundamental flaw in the Bill that arises from the manner of its introduction. Great social changes such as the abolition of the death penalty or the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on abortion have generally come about as a result of public campaigns and Private Members’ Bills in another place that have attracted the support of government. This Bill has been imposed from on high and in a way that has caused a degree of grief and anguish—I say this directly to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who also feels grief and anguish—for many of those who believe fundamentally and sincerely that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. That is not to denigrate or degrade in any way other human relationships.
I admit to your Lordships that I was one of the very few people who voted on Third Reading in another place against civil partnerships. I did so because I wanted them to be extended according to the so-called “sisters amendment” because I believed that any two people who were in a loving relationship, whether sexual or otherwise, should be able to have the benefits that civil partnerships brought to lesbian and gay people. I have moved since those days and completely accept that civil partnerships have proved to be a good thing. I welcome that, and no one could fail to be touched by what my noble friend Lord Black said about his civil partnership.
However, true equality in a free society is an equality that protects and asserts difference. Yes, as my noble friend Lady Knight said, we are all equal under the law—but we are different. Acts of Parliament—again I quote her—cannot enable a man to bear a child or a blind man to see. There are things that we therefore have to recognise as being different. What we have to aspire to is a society in which all, whether they are different by the colour of their skin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, are not only equal in the eyes of the law and in the sight of God, as they are, but are not discriminated against in any way for those differences. That is the state in which I wish to see our country.
I was much taken by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, who said that you cannot, without changing marriage beyond recognition, have marriage between same-sex partners, but you surely can have an institution that is the equivalent in every sense. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Black that civil partnerships perhaps do not quite reach that point at the moment. As a Christian who was at one stage opposed, I would welcome the blessing of a union in the church—in my church, the Anglican Church. The most reverend Primate did not go quite so far in his speech as to specifically advocate that, but its logical conclusion was that that is something to which we could and, I believe, should aspire.
If we change the institution of marriage as it is at the moment, we are not making those of the same sex who become married members of an equal institution, because they cannot be. They cannot produce children. I do not say that in any critical sense but merely as an acceptance of the fact. There is a danger that because we sympathise, as we rightly do, and because we want to see the dignity of every human being on an equal footing, we are likely to vote for something that is not in the best interests of society. As a pamphlet I received put it, this is one of the most profound pieces of social engineering ever to be put before Parliament. The changing of the definition of marriage in this way should not happen without a popular mandate. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about having a referendum on whether people want that change. There some logic in that plea. Certainly, there has not been any manifesto commitment, and although some brush that aside, it is a real point.
I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, tomorrow—although I have some misgivings about having a vote—because of the plea that many of us received from colleagues in another place who said that there had not been adequate preparation and that the free vote was questionable. I know that for a fact from many who have spoken to me personally, who were rather anguished about it. I therefore will vote for the amendment tomorrow—with, as I say, some misgivings—and if the Bill is carried I will try and play a constructive part in improving it. The most reverend Primate said, just before he sat down and with much regret, that this was not a Bill that he could support. Nor can I.