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My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for continuing to push this issue because it is a fundamental one. It is not unrelated to the debate that we had on Amendment 1, because no one disputes the rights of religious people to determine their own rules and regulations and to determine their view. But freedom of religious belief is also about not imposing on others. That is what this debate is about today.
The debate is also about means. We get stuck into this issue because, at the moment, there are no means to ensure that we treat all our citizens in our United Kingdom in the same way, apart from pushing this sort of legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, if the majority of people in Northern Ireland so desire to adopt same-sex marriage, at the moment there are no means to do it. The fact of the matter is that there is huge support in Northern Ireland for same-sex marriage. I never thought that I would see the day when a referendum conducted in the Republic of Ireland would result in support for it. In fact, we have seen huge change in communities, and it is about recognising the human rights of individuals. That is what today’s debate is about.
Of course, it is not correct for me to say that there are no means for change because this Parliament has the right, as Ministers have said. I heard the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, in Committee, and I recognise that there is an issue about devolved government and devolved powers. In fact, I am sure that everyone in Northern Ireland who has been campaigning for this would rather that they won it in their own communities and their own Assembly. They would rather have that, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, they do not know what means will be available to achieve that at the moment. They are asking for our support and encouragement, and I am certainly prepared to give that.
I agree with the noble Lord that no one wants to hinder or harm the Bill in its progress through Parliament. I certainly do not. I have had many emails from people saying that they do not want to lose their hope of civil partnership, because they have been against marriage as an institution but want to protect their legal rights; civil partnership is a means of doing that for the first time. I certainly do not want to stand in their way, but I also know of the frustration and hurt that many people in Northern Ireland feel because they cannot exercise the same right as the rest of us in celebrating a same-sex marriage.
It is about time, and I hope that this amendment will send a clear message: that our debate today is saying that Parliament must act to address this fundamental denial of equality and human rights. Parliament must act and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, this is about having a free vote—a vote that we can all support, across all sections of Parliament.
However, I hope that during this debate we will hear the Minister being able to address the question: if not now, when? If it is not now, will she commit, as my party will, to guaranteeing the next earliest opportunity to ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom has the same rights? We want to hear about progress and a timetable, so I support this amendment.