Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill - Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 1st February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 12:45 pm, 1st February 2019

My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and support it whole- heartedly, and I do not believe that we are striking a discordant note. I think the opposite. We are asking a question to which people are seeking an answer. I do not profess for one moment that we necessarily have it right, but it is really important that we have this debate, especially as we are now talking about marriage being dissolved so that people can go into another form of relationship. The nature of relationships is changing, and the state is catching up.

I say from the outset that no politician or parliament should dictate to a religious organisation what it should or should not do. In fact, that is precisely why we tabled the amendment. In the 2013 Act, we had what people have called the triple or quadruple lock. People said that it was unacceptable. The debates on the 2013 Act are fresh in my mind and some of them I found personally difficult, but I recognise that the Church of England in particular has been on a journey, travelling quite fast and, in my opinion, in the right direction. I also remember the debates on the Civil Partnership Act, when the Church of England opposed it. I know that the most reverend Primate has apologised for some of the positions that the Church took when that Act was proposed, referring to those debates.

I do not know whether the Church has been issuing information about the amendment but, for the first time in my life, I have received emails from local vicars across the country expressing disquiet—who do I think I am forcing this abominable Act on the Church? As I said, I do not want to force anything on any religious institution, but I recognise that people of faith are gay. That is not restricted to lay people, it embraces everyone.

On Second Reading, I deliberately quoted the most reverend Primate in my speech. I think it is worth repeating because it goes to the heart of the debate on the Bill. I said:

“In his recent book … the most reverend Primate … tells us that the Bible’s teaching on marriage is profoundly positive but, he notes, the social reality in modern Britain is radically changed today, with cohabiting, blended, single-parent and same-sex configurations. He continues: ‘If fluidity of relationships is the reality of our society, then this should be our starting point for building values, because all values must connect with where people are and not where other people might like them to be’”.

That is the question for the Church of England. If it does not catch up, people will go somewhere else. My noble friend would certainly welcome many such people, keen for their values to be recognised, into his church. Of course, the most reverend Primate talked about those values. As I said at Second Reading:

“According to the most reverend Primate himself, ‘in Christian understanding, the core concepts of households and family include holiness, fidelity, hospitality and love above all, because God is holy, faithful, welcoming and overflowing in love, and any human institution that reflects these virtues also in some way reflects God’”.—[Official Report, 18/1/19; col. 427.]

When we adopt the Bill, I am sure that civil partners will reflect those values; many people in same-sex marriages certainly hold those values, as we have heard. If the Church does not catch up with them, they will go somewhere else.

I recognise that the Church is on a difficult journey because of the strong beliefs referred to by the right reverend Prelate. Clearly, there are divisions there, as there are in our society, but I know that the journey we have been on since the introduction of civil partnership has transformed our society. I remember the debates on the same-sex marriage Bill. People said that it would be a disaster, that society would collapse and that the situation would be terrible. Well, that has not happened. People recognise the value of those relationships in making a much stronger society where we can love in communities.

Instead of setting a discordant note, I hope that asking the question today will help not only the Church of England but other religious institutions to catch up with the reality: people of the same sex can love each other in a very rewarding way.