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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 1st March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 11:30 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, at earlier stages of this Bill, I informed the House that I was brought up in a religious household. It was a nonconformist household, so in this debate I find myself very firmly on the temporal side of the House, rather than the spiritual side. As the person who spoke in the same-sex marriage debate immediately before the right reverend Prelate, I have long watched the agonies of the spiritual Benches on this issue with some interest.

I thank noble Lords on this side of the House who spoke on this matter. As I said at the previous stage of our debate, the importance of the teachings and statements of the Church go far beyond its own confines. It is true that the stance of the Church causes the greatest hurt to its members and to people of faith, but the harm it does is general and more widespread. I have to say to the right reverend Prelate that statements to the effect that the Church welcomes and includes all ring very hollow when we debate these matters.

That said, I understand that we have to defer to the Church as a body which sits within canon law and exercises its right to proceed in ways which are not subject to the other laws of the land. I watched this debate and I talk to members of the Church of England—to members of very different strands of thought in the Church—and, as an outside observer, I think there are certain elements and traditions of faith in the Church of England that will take considerably longer than others to move forward and progress to join the rest of society in its appreciation and support of gay people.

With that in mind, I wish to ask a technical question of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner; the right reverend Prelate may also want to comment. When the same-sex marriage legislation went through, I distinctly remember that the provisions made for religions were that the governing body of any religion had to agree, in order for it to recognise and solemnise same-sex marriage. It was then up to individual clerics, congregations and parishes to agree that they would do so. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, whether his proposed new clause falls underneath that scheme. In effect, I am asking whether, were his amendment to go on the statute book, it would enable individual churches and parishioners to maintain or change their stance on the subject, as they have done in relation to the ordination of women. Frankly, if we wait for every single member of or church in the Church of England to afford to the rest of us the dignity that we enjoy in the secular world, we will wait far too long. The harm that will be done to our society by people who profess these views will be incalculable.