Examination of Witnesses

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 12 February 2013.

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Ben Summerskill, Sian Payne, Paula Dooley and Terry Reed OBE gave evidence.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East 12:00, 12 February 2013

We will now hear oral evidence from Stonewall, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society. For the record, please would you introduce yourselves to the Committee? Before calling the first member to ask a question, I should like to remind all members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick strictly to the timing of the programme order that the Committee has agreed. I hope that I do not have to interrupt anyone mid-sentence, but I will do so if required. Can I invite you to introduce yourselves and then we will go into questions.

Paula Dooley: Good afternoon, I am Paula Dooley and I am a trustee with the Gender Identity Research and Education Society.

Terry Reed: I am Terry Reed, and also a trustee of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society—we call it GIRES for short.

Sian Payne: I am Sian Payne, and I am a director at the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

Ben Summerskill: I am Ben Summerskill from Stonewall.

Q 155155

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Equalities)

It has been said that the civil partnership legislation has already conferred pretty well all the same rights and status on same-sex couples as this legislation would do by enabling same-sex couples to enter into marriage. Can you say how important you think the opportunity to marry is to same-sex couples, and what difference it is going to make?

Sian Payne: I am happy to start with that one. I have two friends, Claire and Carly, and on 29 January they celebrated 12 years together. A week later, on 5 February, an hour after the House passed the Bill, Claire proposed to Carly which was a fantastic moment for both of  them. The reason it took place on that day at that time was because for the first time, they had seen the opportunity to have equality. That is what it means.

Ben Summerskill: May I respond to that briefly in three ways? First, we are alive to the fact that there are now an increasing number of lesbian and gay people, particularly younger ones, who want their family structures to be described in exactly the same way as everyone else’s. For those who have children, that is particularly important. Secondly, many people rather hoped when civil partnerships were introduced—many of you were involved in that and we remain very grateful—that they would lead to lesbian, gay and bisexual people being treated in the public space in exactly the same way as others. We always try to rely on hard evidence, and current polling shows that 800,000 people in the British work force have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work in the past five years; 98% of secondary school pupils who identify as gay regularly hear homophobic language; and there are 20,000 homophobic crimes still being committed in this country every year. We have come to the view that until people are treated in exactly the same way legislatively, there is a risk that those distinctions will continue to be made. Finally, some of the language we have heard in the public space in recent weeks and months comparing gay people in long-term relationships to abortionists, to bestialists and to paedophiles has rather galvanised the view of a lot of gay people that it is time that this distinction was eroded.

Terry Reed: Can I just add, in regard to trans people—that is what we are here this afternoon to talk specifically about—that having this distinction has been devastating to the lives of many married trans people. We would like to give more information about that later. Right now, I would also like to say that as a cisgender, heterosexual person who has been in a marriage for 52 years to the same man, I absolutely welcome—as most heterosexual people do, I believe—equality in this field. If we do not use language that is equal, people will continue to think that there is some kind of a hierarchy here. There should not be. If we want an equal society, we use equal language.

Q 156

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

It strikes me from the evidence you have presented, and from my reading of the Bill, that it is a permissive and protecting Bill. Can you elaborate on your thoughts about that in terms of the overall scope of the Bill?

Ben Summerskill: We are very pleased that the Government have moved slightly from their original position and Ministers have agreed to do what we have requested, which is to make permissive and not mandatory provision for the celebration of same-sex marriages by denominations that wish to celebrate them. One of the benefits of that proposal is that, in practical terms, it almost exactly mirrors the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that permit the celebration of civil partnership in religious premises. It means that it is possible to be clear that there are no particular impediments to doing that.

The other reason why we are delighted that the Government have introduced the Bill pretty much in the form they have is that it is often forgotten that there are some lesbian and gay people of profound religious faith—some of them are here today—who wish to  celebrate their marriages with denominations that of themselves, through prayer and through consulting their God, have decided collectively that they wish to do that. You will hear from some of those people, and it seems an important issue of religious freedom that any denomination that wishes to celebrate such a marriage should not be prevented from doing so either by Parliament or by more powerful religious denominations that disagree.

Q 157

Photo of Stephen Gilbert Stephen Gilbert Liberal Democrat, St Austell and Newquay

May I ask you to elaborate on the effect that you think this will have on lesbian and gay couples who are bringing up children at the moment, and on the instances of homophobic bullying that you alluded to, Ben? I think one of the issues we on the Committee struggle with is the balance between equality and protecting families, but one of the things that is often missed out of the debate is that there are an awful lot of lesbian and gay families with children, who are affected by the situation as it currently stands.

Ben Summerskill: I wondered whether anyone else wanted to speak. I was trying to be polite, but that has never done me any good in the past. It is absolutely true that it is not just children who may be growing up to be lesbian or gay, or who identify as growing up to be lesbian or gay, who fall victim to homophobic bullying. There are of course whole cohorts of children—girls who are good at games, boys who do their homework—who fall victim to it. Another group which is also affected is children with lesbian or gay parents. That is why the way in which we have historically measured the incidence of homophobic bullying in schools does not just apply to those children who are growing up gay themselves.

Half of the secondary school pupils who have identified as gay have been physically bullied in the last three years. Perhaps more worryingly, of all the young people who witness homophobic bullying at school, half of them say that their schools or their teachers do nothing about it. There is very little doubt in our mind now that until those teachers and schools are reassured that all young people should be treated in exactly the same way, and with the same respect for their future family structures, that level of bullying will not be reduced, and we are anxious about this.

Q 158

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

May I first ask Paula and Terry whether they are satisfied that the Bill as it stands addresses the injustices that are currently suffered by trans couples? If not, how would you like to see it changed?

Paula Dooley: We are absolutely delighted that Government have taken a major and brave step forward to begin to address the issue of trans marriage. I myself have now been married for 39 years. I was actually awarded an interim gender recognition certificate, but I just could not use it to end my marriage.

We do have some difficulties with the Bill. The first is on pensions, as there is a difficulty for those in an occupational pension scheme when the survivor’s pension is considered. Under the Bill as currently configured, if a person within a marriage should get a GRC, then their spouse’s survivor pension will be reduced, dramatically in some cases. We believe this to be fundamentally unfair, because what we seem to be seeing is that we are being shoehorned into the arrangements for gay and  lesbian folk. Do not forget that this particular couple—this mythical couple—are already married. They have already paid the entitlement for proper benefits on the GRC person’s death. So it does not remove the difficult choice that the person will have, again, choosing between their spouse and gender recognition for themselves. How could anybody expect a person to do so? I certainly could not inflict it on my spouse if it affected me. I could not condemn her to a reduced pension just to get my gender recognition certificate. So that is wrong.

There are also issues related to pensions for people who did annul to get their GRCs and then formed a civil partnership. There is a structural imbalance within the Bill, between the needs of the spouse and those of the trans person applying for a gender recognition certificate. I think the intention of the Bill is to make sure that the non-trans spouse is not actually bounced into a marriage which is a legal same-sex marriage. Before the weekend I asked my spouse, who is in that position, and is one of those whose rights, apparently, are going to be protected by the Bill, “What is the difference between the same-sex legal marriage that we are now in”—let me explain, we are both the same physical sex and we are still legally married—“and, if I was awarded a GRC under this Bill, if it becomes an Act, the legal same-sex marriage that we would then be in?” So legal same-sex marriage, same-sex legal marriage—what is the difference? She spent the whole weekend thinking about that and then said, “There is no difference.” But the important point is that because you are saying there is a difference, a number of complications arise.

One of the issues, which is not dealt with at all, is the difficult so-called hostile spouse issue. A number of spouses get extremely angry, and quite rightly so, when their partner decides that they are going to transition. They can withdraw completely from the annulment process, not sign forms, refuse to co-operate, they may not even be obtainable; the trans person may not even know where their spouse is. The effect of that is an effect of spousal veto on the applicant obtaining gender recognition. We do not think that is fair and we do not think that should be allowed to stand.

What we are saying would be fairer, and it has a number of advantages that would simplify the Bill, would be to award the gender recognition certificate on the basis of the application alone and not in the context of the relationship. At the present time, an interim gender recognition certificate will be awarded if there is no spousal consent for the marriage to continue. If that happened, the annulment could go ahead using the gender recognition certificate.

We do not see any difference in principle, but there are a number of benefits that arise from that. First, the problem with the spouse who was angry would not be there. There would be less pressure on people to come to a decision within the six months—believe you me, six months is not enough time to work out what to do with your relationship—so there would be less pressure on families. The application process through the gender recognition panel would be a lot easier, and families are more likely to stay together—and that is what it is all about, really; it takes the pressure off people. If you can see a difference between a legal same-sex marriage and a same-sex legal marriage, and that is significant and quantifiable, obviously the interim gender recognition certificate route should stand. But we cannot.

There are a couple of other points. The first is the fact that those people who actually gave up their marriages to get a gender recognition certificate and then formed a civil partnership were mortified at the time; they felt really hurt that they had to go through that process. They still feel hurt. Their marriages were annulled, so in effect they never really happened, but they were real marriages to those people and they had to give up their marriage certificates. Can those relationships be reinstated? Can they have a marriage certificate that goes back and shows the original date of their marriage? Please consider those people.

The last point I will mention is that many were surprised that the fast-track issue was not raised in the Bill. Let me briefly explain: the Gender Recognition Act 2004 introduced the excellent principle of a fast track for people who had transitioned long term to go through a more simplified process to get gender recognition. We feel that there are a number of trans people of long-term transition who have remained in marriages and would benefit from a similar process. If it was right in principle in 2004, surely it is right in principle now?

Q 159

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I think that the technical permutations that you have just raised show some of the unintended consequences or things that will need to be considered if this legislation goes through, but can I come back to some of the things that Ben was saying? All of us here support the civil registration legislation of 2004. It was late in coming and it was good and groundbreaking legislation. Perhaps one or two of the witnesses this morning did not share that view.

Ben Summerskill: I have rather lost count of people in the past few weeks who have said they fully supported civil partnerships—I know you were one of them. That was not quite my recollection.

Q 160

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I voted for it at the time, so that should be your recollection. What I want to get my head around is when we voted for it in 2004, but did not vote for marriage, we were not accused of being bigots and homophobes then. That piece of legislation was supposed to be and was seen as—I have read through the debates again—an end in itself. What has changed—I think you started to allude to some of the attitudes that may have changed between 2004 and 2013—to make this piece of legislation so necessary now?

You also referred to the serious problem of homophobic bullying and other problems which absolutely need to be addressed. As I said in my speech the other day, these are social issues and social attitudes that need to be addressed. Why will they be addressed so effectively simply as a consequence of this legislation? In fact, I think we have a bigger task to try and change people’s mindsets. What I am yet to be convinced of is why this piece of legislation will help in doing that.

Ben Summerskill: I think we are clear that in some sense we shared your vision in 2003, 2004 and 2005. We thought that the law often does lead the way in terms of hearts and minds and I think all of you on all sorts of issues will have appreciated that. However, we are seeing hard evidence that that has not happened. You referred to people being referred to as bigots. That is an expression we would only have used for someone who compares  gay people to bestialists or polygamists. In that case, it seems quite a temperate description. In fact, we are clear that until everyone sees gay people as being equal at law, we are unlikely to see those changes in public attitudes. Those are areas since 2005 around education and the workplace where Stonewall is now doing a lot of specific and quite effective work that is accompanied by hard evidence research into the attitudes that people actually hold.

Other issues have arisen over the years. Many of you who have dealt with me and Stonewall over the years will know that assiduously we have never asked for legislative steps that we did not believe were going to right a specific mischief. We have always sought legislative steps, for example, the offence of incitement to homophobic hatred, where we believed that there was a genuine and evidenced need for that legislative change to be made.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

I am conscious there are a lot of questions and there may be another point or two from some of our witnesses. Paula, you indicated you wanted to make a small point.

Paula Dooley: A very small point, thank you very much. I must mention the terminology used in the Bill, which has two implications. First, “husband” and “wife” are the terms used. Those terms are not necessarily suitable for a trans-affected marriage. For instance, my spouse would never consider me, if we had a revised marriage certificate, as her wife. She would never consider that.

More importantly, the Bill does not seem to have considered the people who fit outside the gender binary. These people are always ignored. We have an equal marriage Bill, which is equal marriage for most, but not all. If we want equal marriage for all, we really have to consider the requirements of non-binary people, who would object completely to the terms “husband” and “wife”. It is a simple adjustment, I think.

Terry Reed: And that would include people with inter-sex conditions, who feel very excluded by this whole process. I think they have put in written submissions, but they have not been invited to give live evidence. They represent something like 1% of the population, so it is really important that they are able to be included. The exclusivity of the terms, as Paula said, means that a lot of people are not going to be happy either with the celebration of their relationships or the certificate that goes alongside it.

Q 161

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison Conservative, Battersea

One of the biggest areas of concern, which is expressed to many of us in our inboxes, is the quadruple lock, the likelihood of legal challenge and all those things. What views have your organisations formed about that? Do you think the Bill gets the right balance of rights? Stonewall made a commitment not to support people who want to challenge that, should the Bill be enacted. Could you expand on that?

Ben Summerskill: There may not be much economic stimulus out there at the moment, unless you are a locksmith of course. We have been assisted, as you heard this morning, by a very clear opinion from Lord Pannick, Baroness Kennedy and other leading counsel that the lock is sufficient to do what the Church of  England said. I am pleased that the Church of England was able to say this morning that it does exactly what it wants it to do, even if it may seem slightly excessive.

We have been, as you say, crystal clear that we will not support under any circumstances a legal case involving a celebrant in a religious premises who chose not to take part in a same-sex marriage. I wrote, as long ago as 19 March 2012, to David Davies—the Monmouth MP—to say, “I can happily reassure you that there are no circumstances whatsoever in which Stonewall would support a case brought by a gay couple wishing to marry in a Church which did not recognise gay marriage.” Incidentally, he said that were he to receive such an undertaking, he would support the Bill. He did not keep that promise.

Q 162

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde

Paula helpfully raised some specific issues on pension provision. The Equality and Human Rights Commission raised some wider issues in their evidence about pension provision for same-sex married couples and civil partners, and widows’ benefits. We asked the Secretary of State this morning, who gave us a figure for roughly what it would cost to address those issues. Are you content to see those issues addressed at a later date, or are you disappointed that they are not addressed in the Bill?

Paula Dooley: What we are really saying is you have defined the concept of a protected marriage for trans people. We believe that marriage should be protected. If the entitlements have already been paid for, surely this is a cost-neutral issue for trans people. It comes down to trying to impose the relationships intended for gay and lesbian folk who now wish to get married on to trans folk who are already married. So we do not believe that there is a cost issue here at all. We believe it might be an administrative convenience issue.

Q 163

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

Could I ask Paula and Terry what clause 12 and schedule 5 will mean for trans people? That is notwithstanding the important points that have been made about certificates, hostile spouses and pensions. Do trans people generally feel happy with the clause and the procedure and effect of it?

Paula Dooley: I am afraid I am not really sure—

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

It is clause 12: “Change of gender of married persons or civil partners”.

Paula Dooley: Is it in the main Bill?

Paula Dooley: Yes. I only have the schedule in front of me. We are generally happy with it, but we are saying that it could be so much better and so much simpler. We think it is unnecessarily complicated, and does not relieve the pressure on trans people and their families as much as it could do.

Q 164

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

This morning, we had the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, before us. She referred to marriage as the “gold standard”, which seemed to imply that it is a bit of a shame that we  bothered inventing civil partnerships in the first place. Would you want to get rid of civil partnerships, keep them until they wither on the vine or allow them for heterosexual couples?

Sian Payne: I think it would be nice to have a thorough look at the system. The ideal would be if we had one for one, and had that for all. One of the issues for same-sex couples is that they have had civil partnerships but have not had access to marriage, and now you are creating access to marriage without access to civil partnerships. However, it is probably more for those individuals who might want to enter into an opposite-sex civil partnership to discuss that from an opposite-sex relationship point of view.

In terms of same-sex couples, it will play out as it will. I am not sure what the plans are for civil partnerships. As far as I am aware, they are going to remain in place. It would be a shame to continue the inequality, yet some people want that inequality to remain. I would assume that there will come a time in future when civil partnerships do not exist any more; they will become obsolete and there will be only marriage. Because a separate system has been created there will be a desire from people to retain the option. It is going to be a difficult one to see out.

Ben Summerskill: I think we would say on that that perhaps the gold standard is something from a simpler time, when things were not as complex as they are nowadays, both socially and economically. Our view in relation to opposite-sex civil partnerships is that we are agnostic about them, simply because supporting the equality and well-being of heterosexuals is not one of Stonewall’s charitable objectives. Our perception is that, on the whole, what with one thing and another over the centuries, heterosexuals seem to have done all right sticking up for themselves and do not need us to tell them what is good for them. It may well be that, in 30 years’ time, as you have indicated, civil partnerships will have withered on the vine, or else there may be a huge upswell of heterosexual people who want them, although I am not sure there is huge evidence of that at the moment. The Government seem to be addressing perceived mischiefs that exist today rather than speculating about what might arise in the future.

Q 165

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

There is this myth that there is such a thing as common-law marriage. That does not exist, but an awful lot of people in heterosexual couples end up in a potentially abusive situation where they have no legal rights at all; one person dies or walks out or whatever, and the partner is in that position.

Ben Summerskill: That is absolutely true and the Law Commission has considered that very carefully. As I said, it is not our locus to comment on that. We are very strict about adhering to campaigning on exactly what we are funded to campaign on.

Paula Dooley: As a heterosexual person, as many in my position are, I feel that it is wrong in principle to bounce somebody out of a civil partnership to obtain gender recognition. The issue is no different in principle from the fact that the 2004 GRA required us to end our marriages. We do not believe that people already in a civil partnership should be bumped out of that relationship unless they choose that. As a heterosexual I strongly support having civil partnerships open to all.

Q 166

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

Mr Bryant has asked what I was going to ask, broadly. Perhaps I can put the issue in another way, to Ben and Sian. Can you imagine any gay couple in a civil partnership objecting to civil partnerships being opened up to opposite-sex couples? Is there any conceivable reason why they would?

Sian Payne: I think it is quite difficult to speak for individuals who have civil partnerships. I would assume that anything is possible. People might argue that something that is created for same-sex couples should not be opened up to opposite-sex couples, in exactly the same way that opposite-sex couples have argued that something created for them should not be opened up to same-sex couples.

Q 167

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West

What I am trying to get to and trace is where the objection might come from for having complete parity of esteem all round, so that opposite-sex and same-sex couples can both have a civil marriage, and can also both have a civil partnership. It is hard to find out who actually objects to civil partnerships being opened up, so it is neither of your organisations?

Sian Payne: It is not something that—

Ben Summerskill: As I said very clearly, it is just something we will not express a view on, just as, in fairness, we would not express a view on the gender pay gap, although I am sure you can imagine what our view of that is.

Paula Dooley: We fully believe that heterosexuals should have the same rights as non-heterosexuals. It should be opened up.

Q 168

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

I do not think Ben and Sian quite answered Jonathan’s question about whether this Bill delivers equality on pensions. Perhaps you could do that, but my question was about the change in the rules on consummation from the consultation to the Bill. I wondered what you thought about that.

Sian Payne: In terms of pension, it is a disappointment. One of the positions around creating marriage equality was that it was equality. From our point of view it is a shame that that inequality continues. However, from a purely pragmatic point of view we can understand why that is as it is. We would prefer to have the concept of marriage equality rather than fight for something that is, at this stage, not really feasible. So from the pensions point of view, a disappointment but an understandable one.

Ben Summerskill: That is not quite our perception, and people will remember that we had quite a big fight with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the introduction of civil partnerships. He did not want us to have public sector partner pensions at all. It cuts two ways; in terms of the public sector, our clear understanding, having dealt with this for a number of years over civil partnership, is that the discrimination on the backdating of partner pensions to between 1978 and 1988 is in fact a gender discrimination and not a sexual orientation discrimination. Therefore, it was never going to be put right by a Bill of this sort. In the private sector, we acknowledge—Ministers will be able to offer observations on this too—that the Government have never legislated retrospectively for private sector pension schemes. However, I can say that in every case that we have been involved in at Stonewall which we have taken  on for someone who had a private sector entitlement prior to 2005, we have been successful in persuading their company or their trustees to change the terms of their pension scheme. We do not see a huge mischief that would have ever been put right by this Bill, except in relation to technical issues around pensions for trans people. That is something that GIRES will offer advice on.

Q 169

Ben Summerskill: I think this is a parallel argument to adultery, although of course consummation is grounds for annulment, and adultery is grounds for divorce—something that Mr Charles Moore and The Daily Telegraph do not seem to have quite grasped. The reality with adultery is that exactly these arguments arose at the time of the Civil Partnership Bill—how would you manage without adultery as grounds for dissolution? Happily, the proportion of civil partnerships that have been dissolved is very small, about 3%, in relation to heterosexual marriage which seems to be a bit more flimsy. The absence of availability of adultery as grounds for dissolution simply has not arisen as a problem in the past seven years.

In terms of consummation, one almost feels that one is getting to angels and pinheads in this territory. We see an appetite both for civil partnership and for marriage and the long-term commitment, with all the mutual care and understanding that that involves, but we have not seen a lot of our stakeholders saying they are deeply concerned about consummation. It may be that perhaps sex is something that heterosexual people are slightly more fixated about than homosexuals.

Q 170

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

On that point—[ Laughter. ] Not so much sex but sexual fidelity has been an issue which has fixated people in terms of supporting marriage. If you were to define same-sex adultery, how would you do it?

Ben Summerskill: I would not do it.

Ben Summerskill: It would be perfectly possible. The Government used the slightly weasel-worded form of words that it will be left to case law, but then the development of heterosexual adultery has been a matter of case law over hundreds of years anyway. To be pragmatic in a public policy sense, if there is no great need to develop the detail of a piece of legislation, it seems slightly pointless to get bogged down in what that detail might be. There has, of course, always been an anomaly in relation to adultery. If a woman who has been in a heterosexual marriage has had an affair with another woman, then were the husband to use that as grounds for dissolution, he has not had access to a claim of adultery, but had to resort to a claim of unreasonable behaviour.

This is one area where I can only say this is intuitive, because I prefer to rely on the hard evidence of what our stakeholders think, but all my knowledge is that where two people are committed to each other in a long-term stable relationship, the problem of adultery has not been one with which they are particularly obsessed.

Q 171

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

We are in relatively new territory. You talk about your stakeholders, but your stakeholders were not necessarily demanding same-sex marriage two years ago.

Ben Summerskill: At the start of the sitting we gave quite a lengthy explanation, but you were not in your seat at the time.

Q 172

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am slightly worried by this bit about common law definitions, because if you just leave things to the common law, it could be years before anyone had any kind of legal certainty about what they would be entering into. Bizarrely, the common law definition of a brothel includes a place which is frequented by men to perform lewd, homosexual practices including dancing. That includes a lot of places where several Members might have been. That has nothing to do with sex, of necessity.

Ben Summerskill: This is another world to me.

Q 173

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

You are coming across as more episcopal than the bishops. Is not the truth of the matter very few people use adultery now? It would be unreasonable behaviour, regardless of the theological concept of adultery.

Ben Summerskill: Exactly. I know that the Secretary of State was asked about that this morning. Although they are not measured, we understand that the number of cases in heterosexual divorce where adultery is cited, as opposed to unreasonable behaviour—even if in fact adultery caused that relationship to break down—is currently infinitesimal. That is why we do not see a practical benefit in getting bogged down trying to define something and creating legislation where, if one is being brutal about it, legislation is not needed.

Q 174

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

A lot of people, both after Second Reading and in Committee, have been concerned about the polling and what the public think of the Bill and its proposals. Obviously, people can quote any number of figures from their own postbag or from polls left, right and centre, but what is your understanding of the polling evidence that is out there? In particular, there seems to be an age divide in some of the polls that I have seen. There seems to be overwhelming support for the measure among the younger generation coming through, who are the next people who are going to be going forward and wanting to enter into marriage, whether they are same sex, heterosexual, trans or anything else.

Sian Payne: In terms of what is out there, you are right. From 2004, figures start at around 55% for people who are in support of same-sex marriage—not civil partnerships. Going through to the most recent ones in 2012 that I am aware of, you are right that there is that age divide. Support for same-sex marriage was, I think, 78% for people aged between 16 and 24, going down to 37% for those aged 65-plus. That is quite a big difference in terms of the age gap.

In some ways, it is incredibly heartening to see that we have a younger generation coming through who see equality and same-sex marriage equality as something so positive. If we go back to some of the things that Ben was saying about homophobic bullying, there is still a massive disparity. Somebody raised the issue earlier of  what difference the Bill will make. I think there is a difference between the concept of same-sex marriage, and people being supportive of that, and the reality of it. Living with that will have a massive impact on some of the young people coming through who are either children of same-sex couples or who are just able to experience it on a social level—as something that is talked about and not hidden. I think you will see a shift with the polling being in support of same-sex marriage. In future, there will hopefully be a shift so that it is about not just same-sex marriage but a recognition that same-sex couples and relationships are equal to opposite-sex ones, and all the social acceptance that comes along with that.

Ben Summerskill: May I make two brief points on the basis of the tracking of polling that we do in some detail? Two interesting points have arisen from that. First, the proportion of people who define themselves as people of faith is almost as high as the number who say they would support same-sex marriage in the general population. Secondly—we are completely clear about this now, because of tracking polling over a period of time—the other area where a discrepancy has sometimes been assumed to exist, but does not exist, is between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. Such a discrepancy is almost statistically insignificant.

It was interesting and constructive, perhaps, that in Barnstaple, where “Any Questions?” was held a couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Dimbleby asked the audience what they thought, and—rather to my surprise, it must be said—four out of five audience members said that they supported what the Government were proposing to do. Barnstaple is at the heart of middle Britain; it is not Islington or Highbury or chic Kennington.

Q 175

Photo of Simon Kirby Simon Kirby Conservative, Brighton, Kemptown

Ben, there has been some suggestion that gay people do not want same-sex marriage. I know you have carried out some polling recently. Can you share that with us today?

Ben Summerskill: We polled 2,092 lesbian, gay and bisexual adults through YouGov—that was a representative sample—and 91% of gay people over 18 supported the Government. That figure rose to 96% among gay people under 35.

Q 176

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Are there any more questions? Do our witnesses want to add anything?

Ben Summerskill: May I just say something briefly about a question that I think Ben asked this morning about conversion costs? We were slightly anxious that the response to the Government’s consultation suggested that the cost of a conversion from civil partnership to marriage might be in three figures. Clearly, if you want to go and occupy the registry office again for an hour and have the ceremony solemnised, that might be perfectly reasonable, but if all you are doing is sending in your certificate to be adjusted, to charge £120 seems unreasonable. We checked the cost of a replacement birth or marriage certificate. It is £9.95. The cost of a replacement driver’s licence is £20. As most of you will be aware, the cost of a replacement non-migratory trout and coarse rod fishing licence is £5. It seems to us that the charge for reissuing a certificate that simply requires to be filled in and put in the post should not necessarily be in three figures or above.

Paula Dooley: On the subject of polling, I do not think the polls have ever addressed the issue of, “Do you believe it is correct that people with strongly held marriage views on keeping their vows should be forced to divorce so that both parties can enjoy full civil participation?” That has not been asked and it should have been. I do not think that people out there appreciate the position that trans people are in. Do not forget we are being treated for a medical condition. The final part of the medical treatment, effectively, is being let back into society with a GRC. Many of us are now living, if you like, on the edge of society, and we would delightfully have full participation, please.

Ben Summerskill: And the only brief coda that we would add to the Government’s consultation is that we felt the economic impact assessment was relatively modest, given that most celebrants in weddings currently spend about £20,000. Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, who will be well known to some of you, announced last July that as a consequence of the introduction of same-sex marriage, the city of New York had benefited economically to the tune of $259 million in 12 months. Mindful of the current economic situation and our difficulty in finding tools that might change things, Committee members might wish to bear that in mind.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

If Members have no further questions, we shall move to the next panel of witnesses. Thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon.