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Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:04 am on 1st March 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) 11:04 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and very much welcome the introduction by my noble friend, who has set out the issues extremely well. As we heard in Committee, this is about a journey that the Church of England in particular has been on, and there has been some movement. I certainly recall opposition in this House when I was hoping for agreement to civil partnerships going through. That opposition came from the Church of England too, and it delayed my civil partnership by a year, as it happens. However, when we came to the same-sex marriage debate, I welcomed the fact that the most reverend Primate spoke up in favour of civil partnerships. Therefore, there has been movement on the journey and I very much welcome that.

It is not for me to dictate what the Church of England should or should not do. I firmly believe in the right of religious institutions to have religious freedom. It is not my job as a politician to impose restrictions on the Church. Certainly, since the Committee stage of this Bill, I have received emails, some coming from the opposite camp in the Church of England. I did not realise that what I had been through was an abomination but apparently that is what it was, and no doubt that forms part of the debate in the Church of England.

However, that debate in Committee showed me that there is strong support in the Church of England for what we are attempting to do: it is not one-sided. I am aware—and my noble friend has highlighted— that many people are torn between their faith and their identity, and their ability to choose whom they love and care for. In fact, my own husband would have desired a religious ceremony. We have gone through a civil partnership and a same-sex marriage. We have actually done it three times, and I have no doubt that, if the Church of England changes its mind, he will strongly advocate a fourth—any excuse for a party, as they say. I sincerely hope that the Church will move on this issue.

I too have read the Church of England briefing about canon law and about the 1919 Act and the quadruple lock. I remember the debate on the quadruple lock but I do not recall the Church saying, “We can decide ourselves eventually”. However, that is another issue. I accept the briefing and I accept the facts—that, if it so wishes, the Church of England can do this. As my noble friend said, this is a facilitating amendment. It says that we should have no part in this decision and that it should be a decision for the Church of England. However, it also says to the world out there that this House has changed—that we are in favour of allowing people to honour and be true to their faith, and also to be true to who they are. That is why this amendment is very important.

I shall do something that I have already done, at Second Reading and in Committee, which is to quote the most reverend Primate. I thought that his words in his book were absolutely right when he talked about the importance of marriage. He went on to say:

“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”.

What are those values that the most reverend Primate talked about? They are the values that we talk about in terms of same-sex marriage. It is the Christian understanding of the core concepts of household and family, including holiness, fidelity, hospitality and love above all, because God is holy, faithful, welcoming and overflowing in love, and any human institution that reflects those virtues also in some way reflects God. When two people have entered into a same-sex marriage, they are reflecting those values.

I hope the Church of England will change its mind.