Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:13 pm on 3rd June 2013.

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Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills) 7:13 pm, 3rd June 2013

My Lords, I support the Bill and oppose the amendment, and I congratulate the Government on having the courage to come forward with this legislation.

I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said in moving his amendment and I could not understand his justification for wishing to deny the Bill any Committee discussion. If there are problems with the Bill, surely the obvious place to sort them out is through rigorous examination in Committee.

This has been a fascinating debate with some very powerful and emotional contributions. I cannot attempt to engage in a theological debate with the right reverend Prelates—I fear that as a non-practising Jewish atheist that is probably beyond me. However, treating the matter seriously, as I do, I was interested in the idea that marriage is just one specific type of union between a man and a women and that it is for procreation, if I may paraphrase slightly. I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was right in saying that the nature of marriage has changed fundamentally since being an institution that discriminated abominably against women, giving them few or no rights whatever when it came to inheritance and even no rights over their children.

I cannot help but reflect that it has changed in relation to my own experience. I have enjoyed marriage so much that I have done it twice—and for the last time, I hope. On the second occasion, my wife wanted our marriage to take place in church and I wanted to respect her views. On that occasion in 1985, I met the rector and he was a very pleasant individual, but he said, “I’m really sorry but I cannot marry you in church because you have been divorced”. I now notice that that is no longer the case with the Church of England; it has changed its views. Fortunately, we now live in a very different society from the one that existed when marriage was first conceived. The way that society regards homosexual relationships has changed fundamentally, and we have heard some very powerful contributions about that. As I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black, I doubted whether anyone in this Chamber would have been able to make such a contribution 10 years ago. Going back further in time, Oscar Wilde—a particular favourite of mine—while in jail reflected on the temerity of being forced to admit the nature of his relationship.

I have some sympathy with the right reverend Prelates and I would not want the Bill to undermine their right to determine who gets married in church. However, they seem to have great difficulty in determining some of their attitudes, whether on homosexuality or on whether a woman should be a bishop. They are still agonising over that with different wings of the church, but their attitudes will no doubt change over time. I think that we have now reached a point in our society where same-sex marriage is right and I do not believe that it will undermine the relationship of marriage. That is the bit of the argument that I do not understand, and I could not put it any better than the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I usually find myself in opposition to him but on this occasion—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—I could not have put it any better than he did.

There has also been a lot of talk about children in marriage. I need to remind people that things are changing all the time. We now have gay couples with children—something that, again, a few years ago we would not have thought of as being a likely occurrence. Therefore, I do not believe that this legislation is going to undermine the nature of marriage, although it will not be right for every person. I have a brother who is gay. He has been in a long-term relationship over a number of years and has never expressed to me any desire to change the nature of that relationship. Therefore, marriage will not be for every gay couple, but for some it will be and the question is whether we should deny them the opportunity. I do not believe that we should. There are genuine concerns and we should ensure that we have the right to take the Bill through its Committee stage to examine very carefully whether what has been referred to as the quadruple lock will cover every eventuality. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy say that they have looked at that very carefully, and I tend—initially, at least—to respect their view, although there may of course be other views. Therefore, I support the Bill. I am opposed to the amendment and I look forward to Committee.