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My Lords, Amendment 1, moved by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and supported by my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, seeks to provide the Church of England and the Church in Wales with the ability, if they choose to do so, to opt in to the Bill’s provisions when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Nothing in the amendment seeks to compel either Church to do anything if they decide they do not want to or they decide they want to take this step at some point in the future. That is the right thing to do, with the state making it possible if the two Churches want to do something. We should not stand in the way of the Church and any decisions it might make in the future.
My noble friends Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury set out clearly why this amendment should be supported. I fully endorse all their remarks. It is a facilitating amendment and we should put no obstacle in the way so that this change can happen in future.
I have many friends who are gay and I have attended many civil partnerships and marriages. People who love each other wanting to make commitments to each other is something we should all support. The first ever civil partnership I attended was that of my noble friend Lord Cashman when he joined together with Paul. Of course, we were not noble then: it was just Paul and Michael, and Alicia and Roy. It was a lovely, wonderful day. I will never forget it and nor will Alicia. It was a wonderful time and Paul was a wonderful man.
I was brought up a Catholic in a Catholic household. I must admit that I am not a regular churchgoer, but I regard myself as a Catholic. My parents are from the Republic of Ireland, so I come from an Irish Catholic background. I have been hugely impressed with the Church of England in this House. I was always impressed by the Church and the work it did when I was a local councillor in Southwark. I always remember Reverend Shaw who ran St Paul’s, but I never met a Church of England bishop until I came into the House of Lords. I knew a few Catholic bishops but I had never met a Church of England bishop. I am hugely impressed by the work that the Bishops do in this House. They bring a breadth of experience and understanding that really helps our work.
I very much hear the right reverend Prelate’s comments. I am also impressed at how the Church of England has gone on a journey on a number of issues. In the end, things have moved remarkably quickly. I hope that discussions will take place in the Church at some point and that it can make these decisions, but I accept that that is a matter for the Church. I fully support the amendment and the intent behind it.