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Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014 — Motions to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 27th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour 5:15 pm, 27th February 2014

My Lords, I welcome this series of statutory instruments introduced by the Government today. It is really hard, sitting on these Benches, to try to find a form of words with which to congratulate the Government when they do something well, but not congratulate them too much because they are on the Benches opposite. However, I am going to forgo convention because I think they have done a great job to bring forward so quickly the regulations to allow same-sex marriages. The way in which they have been tackling the reviews has been admirable too. It is probably the last time I will say that, so I would savour the moment.

This is a time for great pride in this House and in the role that it played in ensuring safe passage of same-sex marriages on to the statute book. As I have spoken to people up and down the country, I have detected—and I do not know whether other noble Lords have done so—a real sea change in their attitude towards this House. We did a good thing in passing this legislation and we should be proud of what we did, and of the way and manner in which we did it.

I pay tribute to Ben Summerskill, the former chief executive of Stonewall, who has left the organisation. I know that many noble Lords on all sides of the House would want to thank him for his work, not just on this Bill, but on others as well. In doing so, I welcome Ruth to her post as acting chief executive. I hope that she will not come and visit us as many times as Ben did, but she is certainly welcome.

I am sure that Ben would say to me that it is not right to let this moment pass without reflecting on some of the not so positive changes in the law that have taken place internationally over the past seven months. New repressive and brutal laws were enacted in Uganda only this week. Every one of us would be in prison for seven years for the speeches that we make today or for the speeches that we made during the passage of the same-sex marriage Bill, and there would be life imprisonment for many of us who are gay. Publishing the names of gay activists in the national newspaper as a way of inciting violence and endangering the lives of those brave men and women is disgusting and we should all condemn it. Also, for the gay men and women in India, the High Court’s decision to recriminalise homosexuality must be a real blow. We should think, too, of the gay men and women in Russia who are being violently victimised by new laws. We have seen much progress in this country, as is plain from today and from the speed at which the Government have moved to implement the Act, but in Africa, the Middle East and many other countries in the Commonwealth, there is still a lot to do.

I also hope that the Minister will work with the Foreign Office in continuing to press for the human rights of all citizens around the world. Can she now look at recognising same-sex marriage for couples who have been legally married under state law in the United States? We will not recognise it in this country as we think that it is a federal, not a state, matter. It would send out a signal to our American cousins that change needs to take place in America too. Now that we have same-sex marriage in this country, we can recognise same-sex marriage which has taken place legally and has been endorsed by those states in America.

The Minister may think that this is straying a little off the path but I think that it would also be useful if the Foreign Office put in the Library a consolidated note of all the things it is doing in terms of promoting gay and lesbian rights. I know that it is working hard in many cases but it is quite difficult to find all the different strands of work in a single place.

Finally, I thank the Government not just for implementing this legislation but for the sense of joy they have brought in doing so. It will be a lasting legacy of this Parliament, uniting all the Benches and all our parties, and proving what we all know—that this House is a place for good, it works and, more often than the other place might suggest, it is on the side of the people.