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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 12:45 pm, 1st February 2019

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. In particular, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for his remarks, which give everyone hope in the context of today’s debate. I recognise the depth of feeling among Members of both Houses and people around Parliament, but I am afraid that I must resist the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury.

As noble Lords have said, the amendment seeks to amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to remove the exemption for members of the clergy from solemnising the marriage of same-sex couples. The 2013 Act provided an opt-in system so that same-sex marriages can occur only on religious premises, or under religious rites, where the governing religious body has expressly consented. There is no requirement to give such consent.

We have always been clear that no religious organisation should be forced to marry same-sex couples—I think the noble Lords made that clear—or to host civil partnerships. A number of religious organisations have chosen to opt in by providing blessings and, again, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford gives us hope when he talks about the process of living in love and faith that the Church of England is currently going through. We hope that more organisations will do that in the future, but it is right that it should remain a decision for them. It is not for the Government to mandate this through regulations

The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, raised this issue at Second Reading. He urged the Church of England to permit same-sex couples to have a blessing of their marriage. In response, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said:

“I will resist the temptation to widen the debate beyond the scope of the Bill … I do so because I want us to focus absolutely on what we are trying to deliver”.—[Official Report, 18/1/19; col. 432.]

That is a good message for today but it does not preclude our having other debates on the points made by the noble Lord. I do not, however, believe that they are relevant today. Indeed, the danger is that they will confuse matters if we go beyond the scope of what we are trying to do.

This is a multifaceted Private Member’s Bill and we should keep it as simple as possible. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.