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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 1st March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 11:15 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I am in favour of this amendment. I commend and congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the passionate way in which he introduced it, referring to the personal experiences of people who have written to him. I equally commend the contribution of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury.

I was very fortunate to have a civil partnership with the wonderful Paul Cottingham. Before he died, on one of those chemotherapy afternoons where the head cannot quite come up from the sofa, I was stood behind him doing the ironing—this is an insight into my domestic life—because I find that it clears the mind. I looked at this man who I had spent 31 years of my life with, and who I knew did not really have much longer to live. I said to him, “Paul, will you marry me?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he looked up and said, “Today’s not a good day, sorry. No”. But what if the answer had been different? Does it matter to people like me, who are not of religious persuasion or religious belief? It matters because one has to think, “What if that were me?” What if my faith and the roots of my relationships were absolutely within my faith community? What if I were not allowed to participate with the love and support of that community? Would it matter? The answer is yes. And if I would not want to experience that in the celebration of the person I love, how dare I allow another to experience it?

I welcome the changes that have happened in this country. They actually happened in advance of public opinion, which took courage and leadership. It is interesting that all the other religions and faiths do not need the legal protection that the Church of England has been given. As my noble friend referred to, that sends a worrying signal to the worldwide Anglican Communion. It reinforces the concept that it is okay and legitimate to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation. We have witnessed enough atrocities across the globe to have evidence of that.

The amendment is simple. It takes on board the concerns of the Church of England and it forces the Church to do nothing. It allows what I would call a free sprint, once it gets over the internal obstacles that it needs to dismount. What would it achieve? As I have said, it would send a signal that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and difference is coming to an end, as is alienation within faith communities.

Research carried out by Stonewall—I refer to my entry in the register of interests as its founding chair—should, if nothing else, accelerate the desire of the Church of England to bring forward change. One-third of lesbian, gay and bisexual people of faith are not open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith are not open about their gender identity in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Lastly, just one in four LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of trans people. For no other reason than that, I hope noble Lords will give support to this amendment.