My Lords, I, too, want to associate myself with the remarks of noble Lords this afternoon, particularly those of my noble friend Lord Alli. I, too, congratulate Stonewall on all its hard work across all parties in ensuring that this final act of equality is achieved. In particular, I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Alli about Ben Summerskill, who has done a tremendous job over recent times, and, of course, I welcome Ruth Hunt as the acting director of Stonewall.
This country is now a beacon of equality. I am proud of the record of the previous Government in achieving many changes, not least bringing in an equal age of consent, civil partnerships and the end of discrimination; I am incredibly proud of all those things. I am proud, too, of this Government and of our Prime Minister, who was determined to see this final Act of equality through. Therefore, I want to associate myself with all noble Lords who have spoken today. This country is indeed a beacon of equality but, as noble Lords have said, it brings into sharp focus the difference with those countries where homosexuality is still illegal—indeed, not only illegal but a criminal act punishable, in some cases, by death; some of us have seen the horrific films that have been circulated.
I am also proud of the tremendous cross-party support. Today is one of those rare occasions where I want to break with convention and refer to noble Lords opposite as my noble friends, because they have become friends in this fine battle. Politics is often personal, and I declare an interest in that I have been in a civil partnership since the very first day it was possible. My husband and I were incredibly proud when we were able to do that. We had planned the ceremony for 12 months previously but, ironically, the delays in this House delayed our ability to set the date that we wanted, which was on my birthday. As it happened, my birthday fell on the day when civil partnerships came into force, so we were able to do that. However, my husband has said to me in the strongest possible terms, “Why can’t we get married? It has been in the papers, it has been announced and our families are ringing us up. My niece and nephew spoke to me only last week and asked why we can’t get married”. At one point, my husband suggested—my noble friend Lord Alli knows this—“Let’s get divorced so that we can get married”; I managed to put him off. Some friends of ours who had been in a civil partnership—again, my noble friend Lord Alli knows these people—were so confident and so proud that they proposed to each other on Christmas Day, invited all their friends from New York to come over in March and even booked the hotel. Then they discovered that they would not be able to marry because they were in a civil partnership.
I do not want to be churlish because it is fantastic news that the date has been brought forward. It is fantastic that we will see the first same-sex couples getting married so soon. However, I must associate my remarks with those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. Why does it take so long to organise allowing people to convert their civil partnerships into marriage? I am pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who did such a fantastic job in pushing the Bill through Parliament, here. She knows that I raised at the very first stage the question of when we would be able to have a ceremony to convert our civil partnerships into marriages. She gave me those assurances and I know that the assurances are there. Will the Minister, in her response, please do more than say, “We hope by the end of the year”? Will she set a date as quickly as possible? It does not matter when that date is. We are like other people who get married in that it takes a bit of planning—in my husband’s case, a lot of planning—and we need to book things. So will the Minister please set the date, so that I can set the date?