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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 5:30 pm on 27th February 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 27th February 2014

My Lords, there is an African proverb which says:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

We are coming to the end of a very long legislative journey. It began in 2002 when my noble friend Lord Lester drafted the first civil partnership legislation, which was withdrawn but was then swiftly taken up and adopted by the then Labour Government, for which they deserve enormous credit. It continued with my right honourable friend in another place, Nick Clegg, in early 2010 stating his position that there should be equal marriage. He was closely and swiftly followed by David Cameron, who deserves enormous credit. My redoubtable colleague, Lynne Featherstone, notwithstanding the fact that this was not in the coalition agreement, announced in 2011 that there would be a consultation on equal marriage and civil partnership. It is as a result of all that work that we have arrived at the situation we are in now.

It was a joyous day on 15 July 2013 when, in the sunshine, we were all serenaded by the London Gay Men’s Chorus outside, as they celebrated with us several weeks and months of very hard work by Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House. We were steered through that process so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, in a truly remarkable piece of ministerial work. It was a momentous occasion. Since last summer it has been my privilege to meet people all over the UK. I have been a Member of this House since 1999 and I cannot remember so many members of the public going out of their way to express their thanks to this House for doing its job in passing this legislation. They know the true import of what it will mean in their communities.

There has been one very recent discordant note, from the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, issued on 15 February. It was a somewhat dispiriting announcement, and we have to accept that for our colleagues who are members of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, their road to equal treatment will be longer and tougher than they had perhaps expected. I say to the bishops that the default position in the legislation throughout our discussions was that those religions that did not wish to recognise or to celebrate same-sex marriage would not have to do so. At every point that was conceded. Throughout our debates on the subject, those of us who believe the church’s position to be wrong held our peace, and we have still not had that discussion.

However, I hope that the bishops will understand and respect that even in these statutory instruments that same spirit of recognition of their position remains, particularly in the recognition of military chapels and on shared premises. I hope that the individual members of churches who support same-sex marriages can look forward to a point when they can have a dialogue with those members who do not yet formally support them. The noble Lord, Lord Alli is right. The legislation for those of us who have the great luck to live in this country means a tremendous amount. All over the world our friends and colleagues who are gay face the most horrible oppression and intimidation. The church, as with other organisations, has a role to play in making those people’s lives safe.

On 29 March, England and Wales will take one step further to becoming countries that afford dignity and respect to all citizens, including those of us who are gay. I am delighted that Scotland will be coming along fairly swiftly afterwards. I thank all noble Lords and Members of another place who joined the person who today I can call my noble friend Lord Alli, me and the rest of us on what has been a truly wonderful journey.