Clause 3 - Evidence

Part of Gender Recognition Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 9th March 2004.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 5:00 pm, 9th March 2004

I shall be brief because I notice that the hon. Member for City of York who has patiently sat through today hoping to reach his very important set of amendments is sitting on the Labour Benches.

I am disappointed by what the Minister has said because my party's position on the matter is clear and was made so in the House of Lords when there was a Division on the matter. The question is one of a balance of harms. I have to ask the Minister: what harm will result from the creation of, even as he sees it, a very small number of same-sex marriages? We are talking about a limited number, not one that could

explode. Indeed, one could take a historical point of view and say that there will be a defined, finite number of marriages that he deems to be same-sex. Will the earth blow up? Will the sky fall in? Will the fabric of society be undermined? No, it will not.

We are talking about putting people through what the hon. Member for Daventry called a difficult dilemma—I accept that he does not support me all the way on this, but he does recognise, as does the Minister, that there will be a terrible dilemma for individuals—for the sake of legislative tidiness. I think that was the argument that the Minister used. He said that he could not countenance the creation of a small number of what he considers to be same-sex marriages because British law does not allow that.

I accept the Minister's argument that European jurisprudence does not require Britain to do what I am calling for it to do, and I accept the argument that he made in response to my intervention that there is a margin when it comes to national laws and that the Goodwin case did not find that what I am calling for was required. I am not necessarily claiming that this will be challenged under European law; I am just making a practical and principled point that the Government are not prevented from going down this path, and that they are deliberately choosing not to go down it for what I think are reasons of legislative tidiness.