When I was elected to the House in May 2010 it could have been the proudest day of my life. I should point out, in fact, that it was the second proudest, because the proudest day was when I entered into my civil partnership, which I did six years ago, with my partner of 21 years. Our civil partnership was a huge step for us, and yet many argue that we should be content with that—after all, it affords us all the same legal protections as marriage. I ask my married colleagues: did they get married for the legal protections it afforded them? Did they go down on one knee and say, “Darling, please give me the protections marriage affords us”? Of course they did not. My civil partnership was our way of saying to my friends and my family that this is who I love, this is who

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I am and this is who I want to spend the rest of my life with. I am not asking for special treatment; I am simply asking for equal treatment.

People have talked about dissent, division and the heat of the debate, but sometimes leadership is about doing what is right, not what is popular. I congratulate the Prime Minister on leading on this subject. The issue has caused anxiety among colleagues and constituents. Some argue that this is not the right time, yet no one has been able to explain to me what the right time looks like. If not today, when? Monday? Next week? Next year? For me, this is the right time and we should simply get on with it.

Much of our time in this House is spent on technical legislation. Today, we have an opportunity to do what is right and to do some good. I am a Member of this Parliament and I say to my colleagues that I sit alongside them in Committee, in the bars and in the Tea Room, and I queue alongside them in the Division Lobby, but when it comes to marriage, they are asking me to stand apart and to join a separate queue. I ask my colleagues, if I am equal in this House, to give me every opportunity to be equal. Today, we have a chance to set that right and I hope that colleagues will join me in voting yes this evening.

3.49 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I well remember the days when same-sex couples were denied basic rights: next of kin and relationships were not recognised, pension rights were not available to surviving partners, and discrimination in property and inheritance issues was widespread. Civil partnerships recognised same-sex relationships in law for the first time, and I am extremely proud that it was a Labour Government, with all-party support, who passed that legislation in the House of Commons.

Legislation is not built on sentiment; it is built on fact, and I have to say to Members across the whole House that while that legislation unequivocally broke the back of unlawful discrimination, this proposal does not end any discrimination whatsoever, and has the potential to open up a can of worms of Olympian magnitude. I have to confess that I am bitterly disappointed at the manner in which people’s genuine concerns in this matter have been dismissed by Ministers. Logic has been responded to with platitudes, and there has been no greater offender than the Minister for Women and Equalities. I shall come on to that in more detail in a moment.

I want to ensure that my views are recorded, because I do not agree with the comments from people who are clearly steeped in bigotry and hatred. My concerns are based on three considerations. First, the Bill, should it become law, will give no new rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales, and it is a complete fabrication to suggest that it is about equality. Indeed, the briefing from Stonewall—an organisation I greatly admire—makes no mention whatsoever of new rights.

Secondly, I believe very strongly that the state should have no role in marriage whatsoever. Any couple, same-sex or not, should have access to civil partnerships or unions. If this is truly about changing definitions and setting them in law, for goodness’ sake, let us do it properly and allow the state properly to recognise

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relationships, treat all people equally and allow equal access to all the mechanisms of the state. By doing so, we would eliminate the controversy that arises when we start to use the same terminology as the Churches.

That brings me to the third reason for opposing the Bill. On 11 December, the Minister for Women and Equalities said:

“I know that many hon. Members are worried that European courts will force religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriages. The law is complex, but that complexity is absolutely no excuse for misunderstanding the facts. Case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and rights set out in the European convention on human rights, put protection of religious belief in this matter beyond doubt.

The Government’s legal position has confirmed that, with appropriate legislative drafting, the chance of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible.”—[Official Report, 11 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 156.]

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman know of any case in any EU country where same-sex marriage is allowed in which someone has been prosecuted for holding the view that same-sex marriage should not be allowed?

Mr McCann: I am grateful for that intervention, because I am going to deal with that point right now.

The much-vaunted quadruple lock is underpinned by case law. Everyone in the House knows that what makes case law is cases. I am damn sure—as sure as the sun rises in the morning—that a same-sex couple will go to a church or synagogue and demand to be married, their demand will be refused and they will go to court; and we in turn will have to wait to see what new case law is created. By that time, it is possible that none of us will be serving in the House—we may have left politics altogether or indeed left this mortal coil—but in that set of circumstances people will look back and ask, “How did we get into this mess?” They will look back in Hansard and say, “It’s because we made a bad law in 2013, and some politician said at the time that there was a quadruple lock, underpinned by case law.”

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): If we project forward into the future, is it not also the case that some Churches may change their mind, just as they have over the blessing of civil partnerships? Parts of the Church of England, and certainly parts of the Church in Wales, have already expressed a desire to go further than the Bill will allow. Society will evolve, but so too will the views of the Churches.

Mr McCann: That may very well be the case, but my proposition, which separates a recognition of unions and partnerships by the state and partnerships recognised by Churches, would make sure that there was no confusion between state and Church; there would be a clear distinction in law. That is why I am upset about what is being proposed today. Because the quadruple lock proposed by the Minister is to be supported by case law, the inevitable conclusion is that if case law changes, the Minister’s argument falls.

When I came into Parliament I made a personal vow that I would never knowingly vote for a poor Bill or for a poor piece of legislation. I may unintentionally do that in my time in this place, but I will not do it when I know that what is in front of me is a poorly constructed

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Bill, which in turn could become a poorly constructed law. That is why this evening I will vote against Second Reading. That is my position, which I wanted to place on the record.

3.55 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann). His very last point was that we should never vote for something that we know is a bad Bill. What a statement for Parliament and parliamentarians!

Today is a sad day for me. I think it is my saddest day as a Member of the House when my party brings in a Bill to which I am fundamentally opposed. I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I am sad that my party has introduced the Bill without any democratic mandate. I am not going to address the issue whether gay marriage is right or wrong, as Members on both sides of the House are making those arguments very well. I shall deal specifically with the democratic deficit. That is what Parliament should be concerned about tonight.

I have listened to many of the short speeches that have been made in the debate. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) started to make some interesting points, but the time limit stopped her developing her argument. The first democratic deficit which I draw to the attention of the House is the fact that we have only one day for this Second Reading debate, so that Members are reduced to speaking for four minutes, and many will not get in. It would have been much better if we had had the debate over two days. I hope that towards the end of the debate, the Leader of the House will rise and suggest that the debate be adjourned, and that we have another day so that all Members can contribute on such an important matter.

Mr Chope: Would my hon. Friend sum up the conundrum by saying that it is the tyranny of the usual channels which has destroyed our opportunity of having a two-day debate? The Front Bench teams both support the Bill, which leaves the Back Benchers who are against it out on their own.

Mr Bone: The suggestion that I could ever criticise the Whips is outrageous. Our problem is that Parliament does not decide the timetable; the Executive does so.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a breach of precedent? A Bill dealing with an issue of conscience brought to the House on Second Reading, such as the Hunting Bill or the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, would be debated on the Floor of the House, giving an opportunity to showcase Parliament and have a mature debate about crucial issues.

Mr Bone: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I hope, if I have time, to deal with that important point.

Let me roll back the clock to the last general election. I have the three manifestos: the best one, “Invitation to join the Government of Britain”, which is the Conservative

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one; the Liberal Democrat manifesto, “Change that works for you”; and the Labour one, “A future fair for all”. I also have the coalition programme for government. I have read all these again and they make interesting reading, but they do not deal anywhere with the question of gay marriage or same-sex marriage. It is not even hinted at. I thought that I had better check the number of pages in those documents. The coalition agreement has 35 pages, “Invitation to join the Government of Britain” has 119, “A future fair for all” has 77, and the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto has 109—a total of 340 pages of promises and nothing at all about gay marriage.

That is where there is a huge democratic deficit. When voters went to the polls, they did not vote for candidates on the basis that this issue was under consideration or the subject of a pledge by their party—there was no suggestion of that whatsoever. That is slightly misleading, though, because I vaguely remember —we were all working hard at the time—that the weekend or so before the general election there was a slight hoo-hah in the press to the effect that the Conservatives were going to bring in gay marriage. I thought, “Goodness gracious me—that can’t be right.” My leader, now the Prime Minister, had an interview with, I think, Adam Boulton on Sky television, and thankfully, when he was asked if the Conservatives were planning to bring in gay marriage, he said, “I’m not planning that.” So it was not in our manifesto or in anyone else’s and the leader of my party said that it absolutely was not going to be brought in—and two years later we find there is to be primary legislation about it.

Why should all 646 of us, with our individual consciences, determine this matter? Why is my view or that of the leader of my party any more important than the view of the person in the Dog and Duck in Wellingborough? They have not had a chance to express their view.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Bone: No, I am sorry—I want other Members to have a chance to speak.

I have a simple solution to the problem. I hate to bring the EU into the debate, but the Prime Minister has gone for a referendum on that very important issue. Tonight, everyone on the Government Benches and everyone on the Opposition Benches could be united if the Minister, having listened to the debate, said, “I recognise that this is a matter of conscience and I want to put it to the British people.” We are going to have an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017, so why do we not put this matter off until 2017, and then the whole nation can decide on it, not just us 600 people here tonight?

4.2 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I apologise for missing part of the debate. I have been in a Public Bill Committee.

I want to vote for the Bill on Second Reading because having thought long and hard about this and listened to a lot of people in my constituency, I think that the principle is right. It cannot be fair in this day and age that some of us enjoy a right and a privilege that we deny to others. I assume that the vast majority of the House will support the Bill on that basis. The Minister

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will not convince people who are totally opposed to it—I do not think that is possible—but I hope that she will concentrate on three matters.

First, the Minister should think again about confining the Bill to civil marriage. It is not in our interests to make any judgments about the Church—any Church—or other faiths. It would be much better to let them define spiritual marriage as they see fit and offer it as they see fit. That would be very reassuring to a lot of people.

Secondly, as this is an equalities measure it might be worth thinking about what there is to lose by extending civil partnerships to everyone. That would be a reasonable tidying-up exercise. I heard the Minister assure the House that no one who is opposed to same-sex marriage will be forced to promote it, and I believe she is sincere, but I hope that she will do a bit more in Committee to give those guarantees some absolute certainty. Lots of people who are not in any sense bigots are expressing genuine and legitimate concerns, and when making a social change, we are obliged to recognise those concerns.

Finally, section 28 represented one of those dark periods in our recent history when we were being asked to accept a singular reality that denied the feelings and reality of other people. Today gives us a great opportunity to step away from that and to show that we have learned and moved on.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I was a primary teacher when section 28 came into force. The class I taught in Peckham had children whose parents were gay, and I was debarred by my head teacher and the law from talking about their families as families. Passing the Bill will bring that era to an end. We should be proud of ourselves if we pass this Bill.

Steve McCabe: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have a chance to extend the rights that we enjoy to other people. As long as we do that by genuinely setting out to protect and understand the feelings of those who cannot support the measure, the House will have done a decent and reasonable thing.

4.5 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I first put on record my appreciation of the Coalition for Marriage, which has done a fantastic job in informing not only Members of this House, but the wider public about the issue.

I oppose the Bill for five key reasons. First, I believe it is simply wrong in principle. To overturn centuries of established custom requires a proper explanation beyond mouthing the equality mantra. What shaft of wisdom has suddenly alighted on my right hon. Friends that was denied their distinguished forebears? How come they think that they know better than the established Church? For the Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary today to pray in aid the argument that marriage “has evolved over time” is simply disingenuous. As the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) has pointed out, nothing like this has been proposed in Parliament ever before—this is a massive change.

This Bill deeply affects the core fabric of our society through the challenge it poses to the whole institution of marriage. Reference has been made to Spain, which introduced similar legislation in 2005 and where the overall marriage rate has fallen by 20%. Since all research

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shows that children raised in married households with a mother and father tend to fare better than those who are not, the Government threaten to damage the life chances of the nation’s children.

Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and others have pointed out, neither the Prime Minister nor any other party leader has a mandate, because this was not in any party’s manifesto, let alone in the coalition agreement.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has insisted on sticking to the 0.7% target for overseas aid on the grounds that he gave a commitment in 2009, and I respect him for that. He has stuck to that commitment, but not to the commitment to introduce tax breaks for married couples, and he has now invented a policy that he specifically ruled out at the last general election.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that we should have had, at the very least, a draft Bill and pre-legislative scrutiny?

Sir Gerald Howarth: Absolutely. This goes to the heart of the point that, as Conservatives, we are traditionally cautious about constitutional change, but that is not true of this Administration—sweeping Lords reform, a major change in the law of succession, and now this Bill are all to be rushed through on a timetable motion, subject to a three-line Whip. This is no way to treat Parliament or colleagues who have strong convictions either way on what is a very sensitive and important issue to all of us and our constituents.

Thirdly, if there is no mandate, where is the demand for this change? A poll in yesterday’s Daily Mail—okay, it was the Daily Mail, but still—found that only one in 14, or 7%, of those questioned thought that this should be a priority. Another poll found that more than 60% of the black and minority ethnic communities—the very people that the Conservative party is apparently out to woo—are hostile to it.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The majority of the population do not seem to care very much about what we are talking about today, but the number of those in my constituency of Beckenham who do care and who have written to me in huge numbers saying, “Please oppose the Bill,” is far greater than the number of people who will rejoice if it is passed. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?

Sir Gerald Howarth: Yes, I do agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. Overwhelmingly, the letters and e-mails that I have received from my constituents have asked me to oppose the Bill. The fact is that the public do not understand the full ramifications of the Bill and what will flow from it if it is passed.

Fourthly, there is already provision for civil partnerships, which provides most of the benefits of marriage to those in the gay community. Those of us who had reservations when the legislation on civil partnerships was introduced were reassured that it should not be seen as the forerunner of today’s Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord Filkin said in another place in 2004:

“I want to put our position very clearly. This is a new legal status that gives rights and responsibilities to people in same-sex committed relationships… We do not see it as analogous to marriage. We do not see it as a drift towards gay marriage.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 May 2004; Vol. 661, c. GC179.]

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Clearly, those behind today’s proposal feel no sense of obligation arising from the clear assurances that were given 10 years ago. How can we be sure that this will be the end of the process and that there will not be more?

Fifthly—this point was alluded to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) —what about the consequences? On education, the Department for Education states grandly:

“No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs.”

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities, who is doing a gallant job in difficult circumstances, said on the “Today” programme on 25 January that there would be “no requirement” on teachers to promote same-sex marriage. However, she added ominously that

“obviously we wouldn’t expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anything.”

What guidance does that give to teachers in our country who have a profound objection to promoting anything other than traditional marriage? John Bowers QC, who defeated the Government over prisoner rights, has pointed out that there is no protection.

I am not a Tory moderniser, for I believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. I shall not surrender my principles. I believe that this Bill is wrong and that the consultation process was a complete sham. The Bill is opposed by the established Church and has caused deep and needless divisions within the Conservative party. There is no mandate for it and it has huge potential consequences, not least the prospect of endless legal challenge. The nation faces much more serious challenges that the Government need to address. I therefore hope and pray that this measure will be rejected, if not in this place, then in the other place.

4.12 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I hope that one day, we will live in a truly equal society in which there is little or no discrimination. I do not believe that that is a utopian dream. I believe that it is a possibility, but we have a very long way to go. The introduction of equal marriage and the Bill before us are an indispensable step in the journey towards that equal society.

It is disturbing to reflect—as many hon. Members have in this debate—on how the law used to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality. Until 46 years ago, it was a crime for a man to have sex with another man. Until 12 years ago, it was illegal for lesbian and gay people to serve in the military. The time when homophobia was incredibly and worryingly widespread is within the living memory of each and every right hon. and hon. Member of this House.

Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point and one that we should hear more of. Does she agree that it would be good practice to extend the debate until 10 o’clock tonight? Is she aware of any mechanism by which that could be done? This matter is too important to be rushed through.

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Emma Reynolds: I would love to have more time and my hon. Friend has given me a little extra.

It is also incredible to reflect on how the legal terms of marriage used to discriminate against women. Until the end of the 19th century, married women could not own property. Until 1991, it was legal for a husband to rape his wife. The law is neither perfect, nor sacrosanct. The law still prevents same-sex couples from entering into marriage.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a good speech. Let me take her back to the point about homophobia and how recently the things she described used to happen. I would like to reflect again on the case of Alan Turing. I recently attended the dedication of a room at the BBC in Salford to Alan Turing. Today of all days, we should reflect in this debate on the terrible thing that happened to him and celebrate how far we have moved on. I am sure that in her speech, as in mine, we will support this Bill as a step forward.

Emma Reynolds: Today is indeed an opportunity to celebrate the progress that we have made, but as I said at the start of my speech, I fear that we still have a long way to go.

As law-makers, it is our responsibility to ensure that the law does not discriminate against groups of people on the basis of religion, ethnic origin, sexuality or anything else. We should be proud that it was hon. and right hon. Members, past and present, who tackled the injustices that I have set out. I am particularly proud that it was a Labour Government who did so much in this area—equalising the age of consent, abolishing section 28 and introducing civil partnerships. Some of the same arguments that we have heard in opposition to the Bill today are the arguments that we heard back then, but since then those changes have been accepted.

There seem to be two key arguments against equal marriage, which I want to tackle head-on. The first is that it will somehow weaken the institution of marriage. That argument is simply illogical. On the contrary, I think that allowing more couples to enter into marriage will strengthen the institution of marriage, not weaken it. There are many countries in Europe and around the world, as well as many states in the United States, that have introduced gay marriage and it has not weakened or undermined marriage in those countries—quite the contrary.

The second argument is that equal marriage would threaten freedom of religion. Again, I refute that argument. I wholeheartedly support the freedom of religion, but the Bill contains guarantees that neither a religious institution or organisation nor a minister of religion will be forced by the law to marry same-sex couples.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emma Reynolds: No, I will not—I will not get any more time, so it is not in my interests.

Many European countries that are members of the Council of Europe have already introduced same-sex marriage, some—in the case of the Netherlands—as early as 2001. It has also been introduced more recently

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in Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere. Those countries have managed to introduce same-sex marriage while at the same time protecting religious freedom. As has been stated, no successful case has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Minister underlined, the freedom of religion goes both ways. It is also right to protect and promote the freedom of those religious organisations that want to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. The Quakers, liberal Jews and Unitarians have all expressed a desire to do so. I do not think the state and the law should stand in the way of that. I know there is a live debate in the Church of England and that the Bill exempts the Church of England, but I am concerned about this. Only this morning I had a discussion with Canon Dr Giles Fraser. He passionately believes in the introduction of same-sex marriage and would like to marry same sex-couples in his church. My understanding is that the Bill as currently drafted would not allow that.

The love that two men or two women feel for each other is equal to that felt by a heterosexual couple. Their love is no less significant and no less important. I passionately believe that it is time the law recognised this fact. It is time that the state stopped standing in the way of same-sex marriage and we celebrated the enrichment of marriage that this Bill will bring.

4.19 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I shall be voting against this Bill because I am a Conservative, and also because an overwhelming number of my constituents are against it. I have had, I think, three letters in support of the Bill. That reflects opinion in the Christchurch constituency.

The proponents of this Bill are under one fundamental misconception—that because a man and a woman are equal before the law, therefore they are the same. They are not the same; men and women are different. Same-sex couples may be equal before the law, but we cannot force them into marriage, which at the moment is set up on the basis that it is between a man and a woman. Sir Mark Potter, president of the family division, spoke of the common-law definition of marriage:

“The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”

We ignore that fact at our peril.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): My hon. Friend raises a good point about the constituency postbag that many of us have received. I am curious to know, however, whether he has looked at the age profile of the people who write to him. Surely, as it is for most of us, those who are older—60 plus—tend to be the most outraged by this Bill. I have five children, and if any of them thought I was going to oppose this Bill, they would think I was bonkers. The vast majority of people under 40 support this Bill.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We must have shorter interventions on the grounds that everybody wants to contribute. It is important that we hear everybody’s voice.

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Mr Chope: I cannot answer for my hon. Friend’s constituents but I know that my constituency has the highest proportion of elderly constituents in the country and I put that on the record.

These proposals were not in our manifesto, they are not in the coalition agreement, and the Prime Minister expressly ruled them out three days before the general election. In 2004 I was a member of the Civil Partnership Bill Committee and I led 89 Divisions in that Committee. I argued then, as I argue now, that we should give a status to civil partnerships that is the same for men and women.

During the debate, a number of hon. Members from across the House have said that civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. I raised that with the Prime Minister at a meeting the best part of two years ago and he told me that he is against—he put it like this—“all marriage-lite arrangements”. If that remains his view, it is not reflected in the Bill before the House. The logic of that view is that we should exclude civil partnerships, and that the Bill should be amended to delete them in the future, while obviously allowing existing civil partnerships to continue. The alternative is to allow civil partnerships for relationships between men and women. If we allow civil partnerships for everybody, the Bill is not so likely to be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. If civil partnerships are available only to same-sex couples, yet at the same time those couples are given access to marriage, we will not be able to argue a case in the European Court of Human Rights against that proposition.

We should be discussing the Bill in detail in Committee and submitting it to pre-legislative scrutiny. That is why I shall vote against the timetable motion and the carry-over motion. It is an obscenity that the Government persuaded the House to introduce carry-over motions as a standard form of the Standing Orders on the basis that we would be able to carry over Bills that had been first introduced in draft form, subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, and then brought forward as a proper Bill. Having made no mention of this Bill in their manifesto, and without a draft Bill or even pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government are trying to push this Bill through quickly because they see it as embarrassing.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Does my hon. Friend also think it is outrageous that the Committee stage is not being taken on the Floor of the House? Any measure of this controversy and sensitivity should be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr Chope: Absolutely, and we should have had two days for the Second Reading debate. I am at odds with the Prime Minister on this issue, but there is no reason why we should be at odds on issues of procedure and process. If the Prime Minister is interested in the primacy of this Chamber and does not want all our legislation to go in piecemeal form to the other place, why will he not agree to a longer discussion on this Bill?

The Bill could be introduced as a fresh Bill at the beginning of the next Session, and the time between now and then could be spent on proper scrutiny. For example, we have not heard from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which gave important advice to those who debated the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, or

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from other Select Committees, because the Bill is being rushed through. I hope the consequence is that the other place gives the Bill a pretty bloody nose.

4.25 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on the principle of equality for civil partnerships. It would be remiss of us and a dereliction of this Parliament not, in the context of the Bill, to afford equality on civil partnerships. I regret the terms in which the Minister talked down civil partnerships in her opening speech, just as the Prime Minister has done.

Many gay people will, for their own reasons, continue to opt for civil partnerships rather than civil marriage. They will opt for civil partnerships to maintain their relationship with their faith, and perhaps their relationship with a partner to whom they were previously married. If civil partnerships are to remain a valid and respected choice for gay people according to their lights and consciences, they should equally be available as an option for mixed-sex couples. They, too, might want to maintain a relationship with their church, their family or a partner from a previous marriage. All equality should be equal—that is why I will support the Second Reading of this Bill—but that should stand for civil partnerships as well as for civil marriage.

The Bill was first trailed as a civil marriage equality Bill, on which basis I committed to supporting it. I will support the Bill on Second Reading on that basis, although its terms have widened, which has added to many people’s misgivings and to the sense that it is the thin end of the wedge, a slippery slope and so on. I understand, share and sympathise with some of those misgivings, but I will reflect that by opposing the programme motion. If hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Bill on Second Reading but who have also said there are issues they would like to be addressed in Committee want to be honest and honourable, they should not in good conscience accept the Whip to vote for the programme motion; they should vote against it.

I support the Bill on Second Reading because I care for the legislative principle. However, as a legislator, I must also observe the principle of legislative care. The time we have been given to discuss the Bill on Second Reading means we have to soundbite our way through the debate—we have four minutes each to speak, which is ridiculous. I do not know how we can discharge our responsibility to legislative care in that way.

Many hon. Members have said that the restrictions on the right to marriage have changed. People should emphasise that. They should say not that marriage has changed and therefore we should keep changing it, but that the restrictions on the right to marriage have changed. Importantly, restrictions on rights within marriage have also changed. Legislatures led the way on that when Churches were somewhat fearful of doing so.

I am a person of faith. I am proud of my marriage and that it was ritually founded, but I do not believe that that is the only form of marriage to which people should be entitled. My sense of the strength of my marriage and its qualities will not be diminished if marriage is available to anybody else, whether they have

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a civil or Church marriage. We can look forward to achieving equality and legislating for it with the Bill, but we need to address serious issues. Churches appear to be treated differently. Some Churches can be named in the Bill, but others are told, “You have to be content with reading the implications and relying on interpretations of the Bill.” That is not good enough.

I will vote for equality tonight. I was one of only 38 hon. Members who voted for equality last week in relation to an amendment to the Succession to the Crown Bill. I will be joined by hon. Members in voting for equality tonight, but where were they last week when they voted to retain discrimination at the heart of the constitution?

4.29 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I am very disappointed to have to rise to oppose the Bill. I never imagined that I would be put in a position where I have, by virtue of standing up for marriage, been characterised variously as a “homophobic bigot”, a “religious nutter”, a product of the dark ages, or, as I see in this weekend’s press, on the brink of making “a tragic mistake” that I will have many years to regret. This was not in our main manifesto. To cite that it was on page 14 of the equalities contract, a sub-manifesto that had little or no public scrutiny, is disingenuous at best.

My concern this afternoon is to uphold marriage. I speak not just from personal religious interest; although sadly I feel it necessary to have to state it, I do not speak either from any sentiments of a homophobic nature. I hope that my friends who are gay would stand to that comment.

Mrs Main: I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend will be saddened to hear that many colleagues in this House who have professed themselves to be gay have said that they feel that they cannot oppose the Bill because they will have undue pressure from the gay community.

John Glen: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. That is most regrettable.

The assumption of the Bill is that marriage is just about love and commitment. Of course marriage is about love and commitment, but it is also about the complementarity, both biologically and as a mother and father, of a man and a woman who have an inherent probability of procreation and of raising children within that institution.

As an otherwise ardent supporter of the Prime Minister and his leadership in difficult times, I have tried hard to reconcile myself to his view on this matter. However, I cannot see how any Government can automatically confer marriage on somebody by passing a law without changing the nature of what marriage means. It will lead to legislative anomalies and undermine the recognised obligations and norms that sustain and underpin marriage as an institution. The Government themselves have recognised, in the text of the Bill, that there inevitably will be important distinctions between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. The Bill is clear that adultery and consummation will apply only to opposite-sex marriages.

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In the Stonewall briefing, those concepts are seen as “archaic requirements” and that “unreasonable behaviour” will provide sufficient grounds for divorce, thereby opening a whole new area of debate, confusion and differences within the same new proposed definition of marriage. For married heterosexual couples, the concepts of consummation and adultery will remain, yet they will not apply for same-sex couples who take up the proposed provision. This ludicrous situation underscores why, nearly a decade ago, the wise provision of civil partnerships was made—to ensure that same-sex couples could make an equally valid commitment in law, receiving all the legal rights and privileges conferred by marriage, but remaining different in name.

By a factor of at least 30:1, my constituents have expressed their opposition. Those who are indifferent or in favour of the change are unlikely to change their vote over this issue, but the level of disappointment of a much larger minority, as witnessed by the 635,000 who signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, is keenly felt and will be a highly motivated electoral minority in future elections.

I have stood up against homophobic bullying and prejudice all my political life, and I have to say that the language used by some Christians is, unfortunately, appalling. I want to put on record my abhorrence at some of the representations I have received. Homophobia can never be condoned, but redefining marriage is the wrong way to tackle prejudice. Huge numbers of Conservative supporters feel grave disappointment and alienation at the decision to pursue this legislation. The Government will say that they are strengthening marriage by widening it, but in doing so they are redefining it and in redefining it they are undermining it. If the Government want to strengthen marriage, I respectfully submit that they should leave it alone.

4.34 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I want to say to the Minister for Women and Equalities that I was the Minister who took through the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and although there will be much noise and fire, she will look back on this moment in her career with great pride, as I do on the equivalent moment in mine.

The measure of a civilised democracy is how we treat minorities, so it is important that we remember those who served on the Wolfenden report, now more than half a century ago; Leo Abse, who campaigned for many years in the House for the decriminalisation of gay sex; and those, including in my own local authority of Haringey, who in the 1980s wanted to fund gay groups and see our children understand these complex issues, but who faced section 28. Had we not passed that clause, we might have come to this moment a little sooner. It is to them whom we pay tribute as we move forward.

Emma Reynolds: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the introduction of section 28 set back the debate, and that had it not been introduced we might have come to this point much earlier?

Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend is right. It was a moment—a great stain on the House—when we turned on an important minority.

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I have received many letters from people for whom this is all coming too soon. They say that the speed of change for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights is happening too abruptly for them to comprehend and that the country they live in, the traditions they live by and the people they live next to are transforming in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, upset and undermined. They are not homophobic or racist, they claim, but they say, “Not now, later”.

To some extent, I sympathise. As much as I would want Britain always to be the beating heart of radical and progressive change, it is not. At root, it has always had a small c conservative spine running through it—an instinct that change should always be organic, a need for change to be owned by the people, not imposed from up high. That instinct must be respected, and I will be respecting it when I vote for the Bill, because it commands the support of the country, because it respects religious freedom and tradition by permitting, rather than mandating, religious organisations to conduct the ceremonies, and because it is the end of an organic journey from criminalisation to equality for the gay community that began over half a century a go. This change is right and necessary and the time is now.

There are still those who say it is unnecessary. “Why do we need gay marriage”, they say, “when we already have civil partnerships?” They are, they claim, “Separate but equal.” Let me speak frankly: separate but equal is a fraud. It is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. It is the motif that determined that black and white people could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. They are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers—schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty. It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and racists. It is the same statement, idea and delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote, but only if they were married and only when they were over 30. It is the same naivety that led to my dad being granted citizenship when he arrived here in 1956, but being refused by landlords who proclaimed, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

The phrase entrenched who we were, who our friends could be and what our lives could become. It is not separate but equal, but separate and discriminated against, separate and oppressed, separate and browbeaten, separate and subjugated. Separate is not equal, so let us be rid of it. As long as there is one rule for us and another for them, we allow the barriers of acceptance to go unchallenged. As long as our statute book suggests that love between two men or two women is unworthy of recognition through marriage, we allow the rot of homophobia to fester and we entrench a society where 20,000 homophobic crimes take place each year and where 800,000 people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work in the past five years.

I am a Christian. I go to mass. I recognise how important this is.

Stephen Pound: It is a privilege to be listening to my right hon. Friend’s extraordinary and impassioned peroration. Does he agree, however, that there are Christians who look for love in every aspect of their lives and the lives of those around them who still feel profound misgivings and concerns about this piece of legislation?

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Mr Lammy: I totally accept the manner in which my hon. Friend has put his remarks, and it saddens me that I have received many letters in my postbag condemning this legislation from people who share the same values and Christian ideals as I do, and who worship on a Sunday morning. I know them to be caring, loving and understanding people, and I know they resent the fact that those on the extremes of our faith have poisoned what is an important debate with references to polygamy and bestiality.

Therefore, let us use today to return to a discussion of what marriage ought to be about. When I married my wife, I understood our marriage to have two important dimensions: the expression of love, fidelity and mutuality over the course of our life together; and a commitment to raise children. Gay men and women can now raise children—this House made that decision—so let us not hear any further discussion about having a family as if gay men and women cannot have that.

The Jesus I know was born a refugee, illegitimate, with a death warrant on his name, and in a barn among animals. He would stand up for minorities. That is why it is right for those of religious conviction to vote for this Bill.

4.41 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): My views on marriage stem from my Christian faith, and I want to thank Members for the respect I have always felt I have had in this place for my faith-based views. I also thank the many constituents of faith and of no faith who have written to me urging me to vote against this Bill—some 95% of those who wrote to me have done so. In doing as they wish today, I am confident that my conscience and, in the absence of any other mandate, my role as representative of my constituents’ views will coincide.

I believe that marriage is a life commitment between a man and a woman for their benefit and the benefit of the children they may have, and for the stability of wider society, and that no Government should redefine it. Indeed, no Government can do so in a workable way, as this Bill illustrates. Let me explain.

The Government say no church minister will be forced to hold a same-sex marriage, but will the legal rights of the many lay people of sincere faith who do not wish to support marriage other than between a man and a woman be affected? What of the Christian couple who own a heritage hotel registered for civil weddings and who wish to continue holding opposite-sex weddings but do not wish to conduct same-sex weddings? I understand that they will have no legal defence whatever against being sued in the courts under the Equality Act for discrimination in the provision of goods and services, and many other businesses will be similarly affected. It is therefore simply incorrect to say that the Bill will have no detrimental effect on religious or other freedoms.

Ian Paisley: On religious freedoms, is the hon. Lady aware that after Denmark changed its laws, churches there were forced to conduct same-sex marriages shortly after guarantees were given that they would not be forced to do so?

Fiona Bruce: I note that with interest, and hope to comment on it later.

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What of the church youth leader or parachurch organisation, or the faith-based charity that puts on marriage preparation classes? Will they be required to accept same-sex couples, or will they have to close their class or their organisation? If they do not, will litigation ensue, with all its attendant stress and costs, whatever the outcome? Will they face the loss of their charitable status or the withdrawal of any local authority grant or facilities because they do not have an acceptable equality and diversity policy? Can anyone guarantee that that will not happen as a result of this Bill? Or will such organisations and people decide to stay silent, and therefore have the precious right of free speech compromised as a result of this Bill?

What of the legal distinction between the public-servant role of the employed registrar, such as Lillian Ladele, in a local registry office and the public function carried out by voluntary registrars appointed by local churches as part of their membership across the country? If those voluntary registrars—those lay people—refuse to officiate at same-sex weddings, will they really be able to defend themselves successfully in discrimination actions in the courts, especially if the case goes to Europe? Without the principle of reasonable accommodation being part of our legislation—as it is in other countries with respect to matters of faith, and as it is in this country with respect to matters of disability—will not the Lillian Ladele precedent return when such cases are sent to Europe? She was unable to pray in aid the ECHR articles on freedom of thought, conscience or religion when she lost her case and her job. Why should people of good conscience risk ending up in the same position?

Chris Bryant: I am sure the hon. Lady will know that the Book of Common Prayer says that one of the three reasons in Christian conscience for marriage to be ordained is

“for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

Why, in Christian conscience, should the state ban Christians—or, for that matter, people in ordinary society—who want to be able to share that from doing so, just because of their gender?

Fiona Bruce: It is ironic that, although the Government say that they want to promote commitment and equality, the Bill will not create equal marriage. It will create different types of marriage.

Most young people aspire to be married, precisely because of the security that the commitment of marriage provides, but adultery with a married person of the same sex will not be a concept that is applicable to same-sex marriages. What message does it send out to young people about marriage, if faithfulness and commitment are no longer at the heart of it? Far from strengthening marriage and commitment in our society, the Bill risks seriously weakening them. The Government have had to put many locks into the Bill to protect people, precisely because they are concerned that they will fail, one after another.

Before each daily sitting of Parliament, prayers are sincerely said in the Chamber by many of us. Our prayers ask that we should

“never lead the nation wrongly”.

I will vote against this Bill because I believe that we would surely be doing that if it were passed.

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4.47 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): I hope that I shall be able to prove to the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) that one does not have to be young to be radical. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has left his place, because, as I am one of the Ministers who took the civil partnership legislation through Parliament in the 2003-04 Session, alongside Jacqui Smith in the then Department of Trade and Industry—surprisingly, the lead Department on that Bill—and I remember every one of the 89 Divisions that he provoked. I want to pay a special tribute to the right hon. Member for Melton. What is his name? Alan Duncan—[Interruption.] Rutland and Melton. I am never quite sure if that is a cheese or a wine—[Interruption]and in his case, it might be both.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think he is a right hon. Member.

Mrs McGuire: I want to pay a special tribute to the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) because, while in opposition, he led his troops towards what became a consensual approach to civil partnerships. Let us be under no illusion, however. Those of us who were around at the time will remember that, in its own way, the civil partnership legislation was no less controversial than the Bill before us. Many of the arguments that have been made today are the same as those we heard then. In fact, I remember being accused by the then right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, Miss Ann Widdecombe, of undermining marriage. As of next week, I will have invested 41 years of my life in my marriage, and I do not think that I have been undermining it.

The Minister needs seriously to consider the concerns that people have on this issue. I agree that the Bill throws up certain questions. I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) in saying that she needs to nail down exactly what the protections will be for Churches other than the established Churches. I do not want to face any vicar, priest or rabbi and have to say, “I’m sorry, I got this wrong.” I want it to be right and the Minister needs to give us the right indication.

We need to revisit the issue of civil partnership. In its time, it was seen as a step forward. We went forward in unity with the gay community which at that time wanted legal rights to be established for gay people. However, the difficulty that arises when piecemeal legislation tries to deal with a strategic issue is that we get piecemeal anomalies, and I think we will be going down that road unless the Government—if not in tandem with this Bill, certainly as part of a later conversation—think more about what to do with civil partnerships.

There is a debate to be had about the separation of the secular and the religious. We can look at continental countries for which the only agency for marriage is the state, but where all the religious elements—I went through them myself in my own marriage—can be added on to that initial contract.

I will vote for the Bill. I have received representations—some rude, some very polite—and had polite conversations, asking me to do various things. As a legislator, I have to make a balanced judgment, and I would emphasise that tonight’s vote is not a proxy for Europe, for leadership

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contests or anything else. I ask Members to vote with their conscience, do what is right and walk through the right Lobby.

4.51 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I will be generous and give the Government credit for the title of the Bill. It is about marriage and not about homosexuality. I have great respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), but I am concerned that this Bill has advocates—indeed, I have heard them in the House today—who of all people are liberal Conservatives who want to use it as a vehicle to redefine people’s views of homosexuality, rather than to redefine marriage, which is what this Bill is about.

I have stood alongside my right hon. Friend in support of specific legislation to tackle homophobic hatred. Indeed, I have been alongside the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in my school, speaking out against homophobic bullying. This time, however, I will be in a different Lobby from them as I will be seeking to defend the social institution of marriage. We should not conflate two things. An underlying message coming across from some hon. Members, in eloquent terms, is that if someone is against this Bill, they are acceding to bigotry and homophobia. That is unacceptable. We stand positively for the institution of marriage—let no one mistake that.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for the sincere way in which he is putting, and has put, his arguments. Does he share my view that the reason the Government have had to put quadruple locks into the Bill to make sure that no Church will be forced into performing single-sex marriages is that they are worried that the locks will be broken, that cases will be taken to the Strasbourg Court and that Churches will then be forced to perform single-sex marriages against their will?

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Let us be clear about this, because different things have been said about the Church of England’s response to this Second Reading. It has said that

“we doubt the ability of the government to make legislation watertight against challenge in the European courts or against a ‘chilling’ effect in public discourse”—

I shall come to that shortly.

“We retain serious doubts about whether the proffered legal protection for churches and faiths from discrimination claims would prove durable. Too much emphasis, we believe, is being placed on the personal assurances of Ministers.”

When we face serious issues concerning the protection of Churches, can we rely on and take risks regarding the worthy and well-intentioned assurance of Ministers tonight? I believe not.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way.

Mr Burrowes: I will not.

The position was well summed up by Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall. Soon after the last election, he told me that the proposal for same-sex marriage would “not advance gay rights” but would rather

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“put us in our trenches”.

Sadly, that has been the case.

Tonight’s vote is on a position of principle. It is not a practical measure about gaining equal access to marriage ceremonies. The vote is about the principle of redefining the purpose and meaning of marriage. The common law, as has been said, has always defined marriage as the voluntary union of one man and woman to the exclusion of all others.

The state has become involved in refining aspects of marriage, but the essential definition of marriage, and therefore its meaning and purpose—its very foundation—have remained unchanged until now. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) and others, this is indeed an historic change. The big hole in the Bill, however, is the absence of any clause clarifying that what the Government now want us to accept is the new meaning of marriage.

The defining characteristic of marriage is exclusivity, a commitment to sexual fidelity, but the Government have taken sexual fidelity out of the definition of marriage by not applying the definition of adultery to same-sex couples. We have also heard little about the issues of children and parenthood. The Bill implies that the state now applies another meaning to marriage, which primarily involves the rights and values of adulthood rather than the rights and values of parenthood. The Minister is singing a new tune, a one-sided single: “All you need is love”.

The Government must now spell out what this means for the institution of marriage. The redefinition downgrades marriage to a personal relationship, not bound by an obligation to society, community and family that has stood the test of time and is an increasingly popular institution.

It has been said by Members on both sides of the House that this issue is about our views on bigotry and attacking discrimination against homosexuals. I do not have any truck with bigotry, but comments that have been made in the House today emphasise my concern about the freedom that is threatened by the Bill. I myself have been subject to abuse and even death threats because of my position on the redefinition of marriage.

Mr Charles Walker: I am on a different side of the argument from my hon. Friend, but I have known him for many years as a friend and a political colleague, and I am outraged by the threats that he has received. The people who are responsible for those threats should hang their heads in shame.

Mr Burrowes: I do not have a monopoly on victimhood. The homosexual community has been subject to abuse which, sadly, has characterised debates about sexuality. It is intolerable, however, that as soon as Members of Parliament put their heads above the parapet and speak to the media, they are called “a homophobe”, “a Nazi”—I have been called that—“a bigot”, and many other expletives that I would not dare to read out. I have been told to be ashamed of myself, and to die: I have received specific death threats relating to my travel plans. I have been

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told that I am a disgrace, and that I have no right to express my opinion on this subject. My children have been told that their dad is a bigot and a homophobe.

That is only the tip of the iceberg of rude and offensive comments that many Members have received via Twitter. I have broad shoulders, and I can continue to stand up and support marriage in Parliament. Today’s debate has not been characterised by hatred and vitriol—we have shown ourselves in a good light—but I fear for the liberty of the conscience of my constituents who may not have such broad shoulders: public sector workers, teachers and others in the workplace who see no protection in the Bill.

I am not angry, but I am very sad that my Government have so hastily introduced legislation to redefine marriage. I am resolved to join other Members in proudly standing up for marriage—standing up for the equal value of people, whatever their sexuality, but also standing up for a commitment to the value of marriage as a distinctive institution for a man and a woman.

4.58 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I rise to oppose the legislation presented by Her Majesty’s Government involving the redefinition of marriage. I know that many people inside and outside the House have desired a slanging match across and around the Chamber, but I feel that the issue we are discussing merits an honourable and considered debate. There are long-lasting implications for the nation, which will be felt when many Members of the House of Commons are no longer here.

I trust that the Bill’s supporters appreciate that those who oppose it do so because of genuinely held beliefs and convictions, many of which were taught to them at their mother’s knee. Most people, even to this day, regard the United Kingdom as a Christian country. To some that is an embarrassment, while others thank God that our nation still has some gospel light and enjoys freedom of thought and speech. Each day, hon. Members gather in this Chamber to hear the Scriptures read and prayer offered to God, humbly asking for God’s blessing upon our Queen, her Government and our deliberations. We as leaders among our people still acknowledge God’s sovereign throne, the authority of His revered word and our need for wisdom far greater than our own. Sadly, after doing so today, we are turning from the teachings of that same book, and placing our wisdom and knowledge above divine wisdom.

It is true to say that to mention Scriptures in debate in this Chamber often brings scorn, laughter, mockery, isolation and intolerance, but Scripture reminds us that God said it was not good that man should be alone, so he brought Eve unto Adam. For thousands of years, in almost all cultures, marriage has been defined to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Marriage is an institution given by God for the good of all mankind in every age and has been the bedrock institution of family and society, but today our Government intend to sweep away a definition that has served our nation well for centuries and to impose new standards and values on the whole of society, irrespective of religious beliefs or personal convictions. Surely religious liberty

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and freedom of conscience are not to be cast aside on a whim, simply because political parties perceive that by doing so they will get some electoral advantage?

Recently we have witnessed people throughout the United Kingdom experiencing persecution for freely expressing support for traditional marriage. We had a debate in this House last week in which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) mentioned Adrian Smith and Lillian Ladele, and we should not forget Arthur McGeorge, Dr Angela McCaskill, Dr Bill Beales, and Peter and Hazel Bull. Many of those people faced or endured suspension from their job, dramatic loss of earnings, demotion, disciplinary action and court hearings simply because they dared to express their belief in traditional marriage. Redefining marriage will have serious consequences, far beyond those intended by the Bill.

Sammy Wilson: Does my hon. Friend agree that thousands of teachers across this country could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in so far as the legislation requires them to teach the nature of marriage? If the nature of marriage is changed in this Bill, those who refuse to teach that new nature could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Dr McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for that timely intervention. In recent times, I have witnessed intolerance against Christianity. While people do not dare to speak against other religious figures, the precious name of the Lord Jesus is often tramped into the gutter. Many regularly look at our nation and wonder what is happening to it. I say to a Member who spoke earlier that the Lord Jesus Christ, whom I love and worship, was not an illegitimate child, but was and is the son of the living God.

When the Minister came to the Dispatch Box to introduce her Bill, she was asked about the rights of teachers who fail to endorse same-sex marriages in the classroom; she was asked whether they could be dismissed. Do parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from lessons that endorse the Government’s new-found definition of marriage across the curriculum? What is the position for charities that promote traditional marriage values? What protection can they expect?

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Is my hon. Friend aware that the minister of Holy Trinity church, Brompton approached the Government equalities office to ask whether marriage courses run by churches for the community could be affected by this legislation and was advised that they will be? Therefore, the Bill does impinge on the work of Churches and their beliefs on marriage.

Dr McCrea: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and I will deal with that point in a moment.

What will be the position of youth organisations that depend on assistance from public finances to exist? Will they have their finances withdrawn? What are the implications for religion, liberty and freedom of speech? Is the Bill not the thin end of the wedge that will take us down a pathway that will lead to ministers of the gospel being dragged before the courts to prove themselves innocent, and perhaps even facing imprisonment? We are sending troops across the world to fight for freedom,

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yet we are on the verge of losing ours. The God-given covenant of marriage, as God defined it, is not ours to undermine; it is ours to protect.

Although the Minister for Women and Equalities sought to allay some of the fears expressed, we know that she was not able to reassure Members on both sides of the Chamber. As I have stated, I expect unintended consequences. We are taking a journey—that must be emphasised, because it means that we are not at the end of the road. We will take further steps. Ministers might not be imprisoned or persecuted, but that day could come. I have no doubt that charities will face increased pressure to comply with demands and to drop their policies and firmly held beliefs. They will have to close their doors. The day of persecution is not here in this country, thank God, but, sad to say, it could come.

5.5 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Let me preface my comments by saying that although I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), I was personally offended by his comments, which exemplified the tone of the debate. The suggestion that opposition to the Bill is akin to being a white supremacist in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 is absolute nonsense. Rosa Parks is a secular saint; she did not refuse to give up her seat on that bus for me to go to the back of the bus as a traditional Christian conservative who believes in marriage.

The fundamental question is what price equality and what price freedom? Nothing is as fundamental as that. I was disappointed by the frivolous comments made by the shadow Home Secretary, which showed no respect for the sanctity of marriage and no gravitas, as though this was a fun issue to debate, rather than 1,000 years of tradition that predates politics and Government. This is not a video from “You’ve Been Framed!”, but a matter of people’s sincere beliefs and theological convictions, which should have received more respect from a Front-Bench speaker.

We do not have to speculate about what might happen to Christians. One of the most peevish and mean-spirited acts of the last Parliament was the sexual orientation regulations of 2007, which forced out of business Catholic adoption agencies that made special efforts to help the most disabled, deserving and vulnerable children. Those agencies were put out of business, smashed on the altar of political correctness. Today, we are talking not about fairness and equality, but about a hierarchy of rights—“Your rights are more important than my rights.” Members who vote for the Bill should think carefully about that. They should look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they want to be responsible for a Catholic teaching assistant being hounded from her office as a result of this Bill. That is not fantasy; it can happen. I believe that it will happen unless we do something about it, so I shall oppose the Bill tonight. That is the dark period that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) mentioned earlier. I make no apologies for section 28, but there have been dark periods on both sides, and the period following the introduction of those regulations was very poor.

Secondly, there is no mandate for the Bill. The Prime Minister specifically ruled it out and it was not in a manifesto or the coalition agreement. This is not about

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equality, because as we understand from the debate—no one has challenged this—same-sex marriages and different-sex marriages will not be equal as regards adultery and non-consummation.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jackson: No, because I do not have time.

This is a major issue of civil liberties and the orthodox Christian tradition of marriage between a man and a woman. That is the important issue that we must consider. Specifically, we must examine this carte blanche approach—the suggestion that we should trust the Minister that the European Court of Human Rights will not intervene. Let me direct Members to the Evangelical Alliance briefing, which states:

“Protections for religious organisations will only hold as long as the European Court does not itself accept a redefinition of marriage. Given likely accumulation of cases of precedence to recognise same-sex marriage in member states (and to see any deviations from ‘marriage equality’ as discriminatory) and the ongoing questions about the UK’s relationship to the EU, it is clear that any guarantees of legal protection are limited in scope and at best short-term.”

The Bill is a Pandora’s box of endless litigation, offering division in society and setting one group against another. For that reason and for community cohesion, we must resist it.

5.9 pm

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). I certainly agree with his sentiments. This is one of the most significant debates in this Parliament yet, by the same token, it is one of the most unneeded. The proposal was not included in the Conservative manifesto of 2010, as we have heard. The Conservative party, which leads the Government and which is the largest party in the House of Commons, did not receive any mandate at all from the people who voted for it to pursue this fundamental change to one of the great institutions of society.

The Conservative party is supposed to be the representative voice of the fundamental Tory philosophy of standing for the conservation of that which serves society well, and for slow, organic change over time. Radical social change that undermines the long-standing and commonly understood definition of marriage runs contrary to that which the Tory party came into being to defend. I fear that this is about trying to detoxify the brand. I have a lot of good friends in the Tory party, but I say this to the Prime Minister, who has astonished me by introducing this legislation: this may appease some people out there for a while, but it will undermine the grass roots of the Tory party. We saw evidence of that yesterday when Tory chairmen and presidents went to No 10 Downing street. There is a price to pay for all of this.

I am opposed to this idea, but that does not mean that I oppose someone who wants to live that lifestyle—that is entirely up to them, absolutely. My opposition is rooted in a positive affirmation of the validity of marriage as it is. I believe in equality. One of the foundational

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principles of the Democratic Unionist party is that people should be equal under the law, and equally subject to the law. The Minister tried to give us assurances that such and such is in the Bill, but may I put a question to her? When—not if, but when—schoolteachers, Churches, and preachers of the gospel are brought before the courts of this land or the European Courts and lose their case, will the Government pay their legal fees? If she is sure that protection is available, will the Government do so? I very much doubt it.

May I tell the House something to back up what our brother, my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) said? This is not the jurisdiction of this House. This is not the jurisdiction of this Government, of any European Government or of any Government in the world. This is an ordained constitution of God. In the garden of Eden, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

5.13 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. There is no doubt that this has been a vigorous debate, and personally I respect the views of people on both sides of the argument. It is a pity that the extremes on both sides have used the language and terms that they have.

I approach the Bill wanting to support it, but I have concerns. Issues raised by constituents have made me think and ask questions, and made me seek answers and reassurances. For me, the points that have been raised reflect the many personal battles that I have faced and some of the most troubling and dark times in my life. Many people have spoken and written about deeply held religious beliefs. From an early age, I developed those beliefs, going to church without the support of my family. That faith grew over time, but in my adolescence, I began to realise that I was gay. Being gay in a small Welsh village really was like being the only gay in the village. It was the start of some very deep questioning about my faith and my sexuality that has taken me years to try to resolve, and I am still seeking answers.

When the Bill was announced it reignited that dilemma and raised many questions. I believe in personal freedom and equality, but I also hold dear the principle of religious freedom. Many of the letters that I have received raised exactly those points. But marriage changed from the moment civil marriage was enacted. The state created an act of union that was separate from religion and the Church, so as the state is involved in civil marriage, I cannot see how we can make it exclusive. I want to live in a society that does not discriminate. That is why I support the Bill. However, I want to secure that personal choice for marriage, as well as personal freedom. That is why I welcome the locks that the Government have put in place.

On reflection, I believe the Bill strengthens the meaning of religious freedom, which is a principle we should all uphold. Many religious groups that want to perform same-sex marriages are currently barred from doing so, which surely contradicts the true meaning of religious freedom. The measures in the Bill before us lay the decision whether to hold such marriages squarely at the doors of those organisations. It is not a decision of the state and allows each group to decide, bringing about true freedom.

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Where the state is involved is in extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. In an equal and free society, this must surely be right. Equality measures introduced in the past have changed attitudes, as I have witnessed. This is another step forward. Marriage is a wonderful institution, but for too long we have seen a decline in the number of people making that commitment. Rather than see the Bill as a threat to that institution, we should see it as a great opportunity to show how much better our society is when people commit to one another. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education said in his article, for him it was a day when he went from “he” to “we”. I want to extend that to everybody in our society. At present I am not allowed to do that. How can that be fair? I want that opportunity to be there for all.

Marriage is a sacred commitment. The Bill does not undermine marriage. Surely offering it to others can only strengthen it and ultimately build the better society that we all want.

5.17 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I support the Second Reading of the Bill on the basis that it is the fundamental right of all people to have the opportunities and obligations of marriage, irrespective of whether it is between two people of the same sex or different sexes. Marriage bestows a host of benefits that should be equally available to people, whether they are gay or straight. There are practical benefits—for example, people consenting to their married partner having medical treatment abroad.

The Bill opens up the opportunities for civil marriage and enables Churches to go forward as well, if they so wish. A couple of the arguments used against this are red herrings, in particular the issue of the definition of marriage, adultery and consummation. Most divorces are due to unreasonable behaviour, and it is obvious that if a gay partner went off with somebody else or there was no sexual relationship between the partners, that could be construed as unreasonable behaviour, so in practice there is a homosexual version of adultery and consummation. The draftsmen or draftswomen should be able to work that out. The argument is entirely a red herring.

The issue of children has been raised in the Chamber and elsewhere. Clearly, the Bill is not about adoption. The stability of a gay couple and their ability to provide a loving and stable relationship for children is improved, not reduced, by the Bill. Surely it is better for an adopted child to be with a stable couple than with an unstable individual or in a care home.

On equal rights to marriage in one’s own Church, the issue of freedom of religion arises. Whose freedom is it? Is it the freedom of the Church, when the great majority of parishioners want to go forward and ordain women, for instance, or want to allow all couples to get married? Some of these issues are for the Church. When considering in detail the position of the Church in Wales and the Church of England, we should be under no illusion that those Churches are under an obligation to marry all comers. Therefore, when this Bill goes through they will, as an arm of the state, be open to legal challenge in Strasbourg. That involves genuine legal questions that need to be answered. Irrespective of that, the journey

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that we are taking to create more stable families and a better society will be enhanced by this Bill to bring about equality in marriage.

5.19 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): There is a Bill before the other House to pardon Alan Turing. We probably would not be here debating in freedom today without his genius at Bletchley Park, yet this remarkable individual—the father of modern computing—was driven to suicide as a result of his shameful chemical castration enforced by the state as an alternative to prison. I hope that the Bill in the other place is successful.

If anybody feels, however, that this is some historical footnote, they should think again. They should consider the number of homophobic crimes that happen every year, and perhaps they should look at an MP’s postbag. I receive hateful correspondence, some of which suggests treatment for homosexuality. I can tell the people who write those things that homosexuality needs no treatment. Our sexuality is fundamental to who we are. We will all know people who have been forced to live a lie, bringing immeasurable unhappiness to themselves and those around them. Such marriages were not marriages—they were a sham enforced by society and the state.

I am very proud that we in this House will shortly sweep away one of the last statutory discriminations against people with mental illness. Words matter. The word “marriage” matters to me. My understanding of marriage as somebody with no faith is no less valid than that of Members who speak passionately from their religious perspective. I would say that when this measure has passed, as I hope that it does, we will look back in five years’ time and wonder what the fuss was about.

I well remember talking to a senior military figure at around the time we were about to introduce the ability for people to be openly gay within our armed forces. He spoke about the collapse of discipline and moral decay, but none of that happened; in fact, the forces became a much more open and pleasant place to work. In a few years’ time, will the marriage of any Member here feel any different—any less valuable—because we have extended that right to those who perhaps have different views from ourselves? This measure is long overdue.

I ask hon. Members to remember that when Alan Turing took his own life, it is thought that he laced an apple with cyanide, an apple being the symbol of forbidden love. Homosexuality is not forbidden love, and it is time that this House recognised that, and recognised that people cannot be a little bit equal. We have heard hon. Members and colleagues telling us that this matters to them. If it matters to one person in this House that we recognise the validity of their relationship, then it is time for us to move on. Tonight I shall be thinking of Alan Turing and all those people who have had to live a lie over the centuries, all those people around the world today for whom being homosexual is still a death sentence, and the message that we send around the world if we do not accept and celebrate people who are homosexual and vote for love and equality.

5.23 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Whether Members care to admit it or not, there is a natural, a biological and indeed a scriptural order to life. Marriage begets

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children, by and large; children begat families, by and large; and families are the root of society: they form society. That is a simple observation of life—a time line —but it goes right to the heart of what we are debating in this House today.

This Parliament can tweak all it wants with laws and legislation, but it cannot pretend that marriage of same-sex couples is even close to being on a par with mixed-sex couples, because of nature itself. It is a fraud for those on the Government Front Bench and a deceit for this House to pretend that they can embark on something for the most pathetic of reasons—public relations reasons. There is a nonsensical notion—and it is just a notion—that this House is creating equality, but it cannot actually create that equality when it is nature itself that is not equal.

Governments do not make marriages. It is nonsense that this House can, and that this Bill will, make marriages. Admittedly, the House maps over them and extends rights and privileges to married couples. Indeed, it extends status to married couples, but Governments do not change nature. Marriage would and did exist without Governments so, ultimately, tweaking this Bill to redefine marriage is nonsense. Governments can damage marriage and they can, therefore, returning to my first point, damage society.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is not love the fundamental concept of marriage?

Ian Paisley: I appreciate the hon. Lady making that point, because it echoes one made by those on the Government Front Bench. According to those on the Front Bench, the Bill is all about love, but marriage is not defined anywhere in law by love. It is exemplified by love—I love my wife passionately—but that is not what marriage is. That is an expression of a relationship. There are many arranged marriages and many marriages are loveless, but those people are still in law and by law married. Marriage is not defined by love itself. The vow that we take when we get married is there to sustain marriage, even after love wanes, if it wanes at all.

We should accept that the state cannot create a situation in which people are in love, and neither can it legislate for that. There is no passionometer with regard to legislation. In fact, for those on the Government Front Bench to pretend that this is about some dewy-eyed concept of love is wrong. The fact is that the Bill does not create love for homosexuals and gay people; they create love for themselves. It is absolute nonsense to pretend that we are involved in legislating for love—we are not.

Chris Bryant: I do not think that homosexuals are looking for the law to provide love for any of us. The hon. Gentleman is making a fundamental mistake by trying to say that love is of necessity about romantic love. It says in law and the Book of Common Prayer that it is about mutual society. Surely that can be enjoyed by two people of the same gender, just as it can be by anybody else.

Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman makes my exact point. Both the Government and the Opposition have claimed, as has the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), who intervened on me

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earlier, that this is all about love. It is not. It is about a relationship, and love comes as part of that relationship. This is not about giving love to homosexuals, or about allowing or denying them love. They have that anyway—that is the point.

The Government do not have a mandate to introduce this legislative change. When many millions of married couples got married, they settled on a legal position, which is that marriage is a voluntary union of one man to one woman, to the exclusion of all others. That is the settled legal position that they swore to and agreed to. We now have a situation where that has to be set aside, because this House believes that it can change nature. I believe that this House is wrong.

Unfortunately the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is not in his place, but he made some comments that fall into what I can only describe as the not-so-new phenomenon—which will now develop—of Christophobia. Anyone who expresses a Christian view is now going to face the allegation that they are by nature homophobic. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) said that those with Christian views are compared to white supremacists.

Any rational debate is being pushed to the side, slowly but surely, by this corrosive attempt to redefine the meaning of a word. That is a shame on this nation and we should guard against this change. That is why I will not support the Bill.

5.30 pm

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate.

To reflect on the last point that was made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I think that it is fair to say that the contents of all our inboxes over the past few weeks are testimony to the fact that free speech is alive and well in this country. I am not aware that any Christians who disagree with my support for the Bill have felt in any way inhibited from expressing that view. That is great. I totally support their right to do so.

May I also respond to the point that has been made continually about marriage having been between a man and a woman throughout history? Given that homosexuality was illegal in the UK until the late ’60s, it is ridiculous to make the point that marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Until that point, a homosexual relationship would not even have been legal. Had homosexuality been legalised 100 years ago, we probably would have had this debate many years back. People must bear that historical context in mind.

We must also remember that although we are talking about these changes, people face death, imprisonment and persecution for being gay in large parts of our world. The messages that we send out on these issues are therefore very important and resonate beyond these shores.

I am not a religious person. My starting point in this debate is that if we can extend to some people rights that will bring them great joy and happiness, without damaging the rights of other people or institutions, that is a good thing. I believe that that is what the Bill sets out to do.

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As has been more than demonstrated by this debate, marriage is incredibly important to people of faith. However, marriage is not owned by people of faith alone. It has long belonged to civic society as well. I must speak up for that large group of people in this debate. It is easy to forget that many people still celebrate civil marriages. It is a good thing that they do because, given the declining church attendances over many decades, if they did not, marriage would be declining at a greater rate than it is. Many people enter into marriage sincerely and happily outside of religious statute. Let us not forget those people, because they need a voice in this debate.

The other people whose voice has been lacking from the national debate over the past few weeks are young people. I represent the youngest borough in the country, which has the highest proportion of 25 to 39-year-olds in England and Wales. Many of those people look at us and wonder about the debate that we are having. Some of them have sincere doubts about the Bill and have expressed them to me, but many of them think that this is a Bill whose time has come.

I have been surprised by the people who have written to me asking, “What will I tell my children if this Bill goes through?” The children of some of those people will be gay. That is a matter of statistical probability. I therefore hope that they tell their children, “If you’re gay, it’s okay and I’ll love you just the same. And guess what? I hope I can come to your wedding if you decide to get married.”

Before my time runs out, I would like to quote an e-mail from my constituent, Matt Turrell, who said that I could do so:

“I’m 38 and grew up through what felt like very homophobic years, which as a young person leaves you with a lasting sense of second-class citizenship.”

Matt is now a photographer who makes money by photographing, among other things, civil partnerships. That picks up on the point about the inadvertent growth strategy, because he will, I hope, be able to extend his business in the near future to same-sex weddings. He wrote:

“In every partnership I’ve worked at, there has been an overwhelming feeling of love between the couple and also love and support from their family and friends.”

The Bill is not just about the gay people who want to get married; it is about their family and friends who want to celebrate that special moment with them. I very much hope that we will support the Bill.

5.34 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison).

Today’s debate is essentially about civil rights and equality—about whether we believe that inequality under the law can still be justified in our society or whether we believe that, as Martin Luther King once reminded us,

“the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

We have an opportunity today to join countries such as Argentina, Spain, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa—nations that have strengthened the institution of marriage by removing the inequality before the law that existed for loving, same-sex couples.

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Although many parts of the Bill deal with areas devolved to the Scottish Parliament, where an equivalent Bill will be considered shortly, with similar cross-party support, important parts of this Bill deal with the civil rights of my constituents and those throughout Scotland, with provisions that pave the way for the mutual recognition of marriages, marriages of service personnel and consular staff, and marriages entered into overseas, along with important provisions for the transgender community. There is great support in Scotland for the idea that the institution of marriage should be open to loving couples of the same sex and that the injustices faced by transgender people should be ended too.

The breadth of those in favour in Scotland shows how much society there has moved on from the days in the 1980s of the hated section 2A and the social divisions over its abolition a decade ago. The most recent surveys of public opinion show that 64% of people believe that same-sex couples should be able to marry and that 68% believe that religious organisations that wish to conduct same-sex marriages should be able to do so. The support across Scotland includes 70% of women, 75% of under-55s and three quarters of households with children. It is the settled view of the Scottish people in wealthy Scotland and deprived Scotland, and in urban and rural Scotland. It was endorsed by a full 65% of those who made full responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the issue. That view is also supported by ordinary Catholics and worshippers in the Church of Scotland—by 54% and 50% respectively—according to the Scottish social attitudes survey. It is a view also backed by a huge coalition across civic society in Scotland.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is massive support for the legislation in Scotland among all sectors of the community, but none of the measures we are debating today affects the Scottish people. It does not affect his or my constituents. It does not affect anybody in Scotland; we have our own legislation in Scotland.

Mr Bain: I am grateful for that intervention, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to check clause 10, parts 2 and 3, and schedules 2, 5 and 6. He is sure to find that they apply to his constituents and mine in Scotland.

The Bill will achieve a great deal in equalising the marriage laws in their own right, but it will also have the effect of challenging and reducing the discrimination that same-sex couples and other LGBT people still face in our society. The Bill will strengthen marriage as a social union, but it will also strengthen our society as a whole, reflecting our values of diversity and freedom. This measure is about freedom. The right to marry is set out in article 12 of the European convention on human rights, drawn up by a Conservative Home Secretary and made part of our law in the United Kingdom by a Labour Government in the 1990s.

Sometimes equality is delivered in huge leaps, on other occasions in small steps. Our society has made huge leaps to end the intolerance and, often, the persecution it inflicted on the LGBT community in our chequered past. Today is a small step, but a hugely significant one. By extending the civil right to marry to millions of people across the country, we send a powerful signal to the world about who we are and what we stand for.

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Let us join a dozen progressive countries that have already done just that and stand tonight united as a House on the right side of history.

5.39 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): This afternoon hundreds of Members of Parliament have come into the Chamber to discuss marriage. I wish that happened much more often, because the really big issue —the one we debate very rarely in this House, although it is an unfolding tragedy across our nation—is the collapse of family life.

I have to take issue with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who said that family life had not fallen apart. In this country the marriage rate has almost halved since 1972, and the number of single parents has more or less doubled between 1980 and today. Four million children live apart from one or other parent, and every year 300,000 couples split up. We do not discuss that enough in this House, or what we can do to help reverse that situation and give couples the skills and support they need to make a success of their marriage and relationship. I hope this is not the last time that hundreds of Members of Parliament come together to discuss the important issues of family life. It is a huge issue that Parliament must not miss.

In his landmark speech in December 2011 at Christ Church, Oxford, the Prime Minister said that the United Kingdom was a “Christian country”. Those were his words and I was pleased to hear him say them. What we are doing this afternoon should give us pause for thought, because we will be realigning the laws of this country in a way that is different from what Christian doctrine teaches. We should take note of what the newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said yesterday, and of what the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Alliance, the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, and many others, are saying.

Let me quote two verses from the New Testament from when Jesus was talking about marriage. He said that

“at the beginning the Creator made them male and female…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

That was Jesus’s definition of marriage in Matthew chapter 19.

I absolutely recognise that homosexual people want to celebrate their relationships, and that is what civil partnerships are for. All the rights and privileges of marriage are vested in civil partnerships. If civil partnerships are not sufficient, we should create a new term—call it a civil union, a lifelong union. Churches are now able to bless civil partnerships if they are willing to do so, and we have the opportunity to provide the celebration that homosexual people are looking for without changing a foundational institution of our country.

We have heard reassurances about protections, but looking at what has happened in other countries, I understand that in Denmark the protections that were promised to Churches are not being honoured and that they are being forced to perform same-sex marriages. I am worried about the legal position in the European

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Union, and others have mentioned the European Court of Human Rights and articles 12 and 14 of the European convention on human rights. It is possible that the situation could change. What of further redefinitions? Will this be the last redefinition of marriage? I understand that in the Netherlands and Brazil, three-way relationships are being legally recognised.

We have heard arguments from all sides, and legal opinions have been quoted this way and that. Remember, however, the case of Adrian Smith who lost his job and was dragged through the courts and had huge costs—

Mr Speaker: Order.

5.43 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): We have heard many claims that the Government are introducing this Bill to make marriage fairer, more equitable, and available to everyone in society. In December, the Minister for Women and Equalities stated:

“Marriage is not static; it has evolved and Parliament has chosen to act over the centuries to make it fairer and more equal.”—[Official Report, 11 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 155.]

That may have been the case, but marriage as the union of one man and one woman has never changed in thousands of years. Issues such as property rights or where ceremonies can take place have changed, but the essential nature of marriage has not.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Dr Offord: No, I will not because I would like to get through my speech.

This Bill would create “ungendered” marriage with two types of marriage available: same-sex marriage, or opposite-sex marriage. That will inevitably have implications on society’s view of marriage, but fairness will not be one of them. I will give way now.

Mr Harris: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He talks about the unchanging nature of marriage over thousands of years. I do not know whether he is a Christian—he has not yet got to that part—but will he have a good look at the Old Testament? King David, a man described as:

“A man after God’s own heart”,

had not one wife or two wives but many, many wives and concubines. He had children by them all and was never once criticised by the priests or the writers of the Bible. Of course marriage has changed over many thousands of years—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman but interventions must be brief.

Dr Offord: I am grateful for that intervention, particularly as it gives me an extra minute, but I will come to that point later.

One reason I oppose the Bill is that it will be an open-ended process, the consequences of which the Government and the hon. Gentleman do not appear to have considered. In an attempt to appeal, the Government

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have produced a policy on the principle of eradicating difference. The bitter irony is that it will lead only to greater inequality.

First, civil partners already have all the legal rights of marriage, which is denied to many others who cohabit. Two sisters who live together for many years cannot enter a civil partnership, but if one dies leaving the property to the other, the sister who remains is liable for full inheritance tax on the property. That would not apply to female same-sex partners. That is hardly fair, is it? As a result of the Bill, same-sex couples have a choice of seeking to get married or seeking a civil registration. A heterosexual couple would be denied the opportunity to seek a civil registration and have only one choice: marriage. That, too, is hardly fair.

However, what concerns me most is where this Bill will lead. The Government are unable to give assurances that certain scenarios will not develop. I suspect that many problems will evolve through the legal process because the judiciary will construct judgments that are contrary to the reassurances we hear in the Chamber.

Many hon. Members supported the legislation introduced by the previous Government that created civil partnerships because the consultation document—“Civil Partnership: A Framework for the Legal Recognition of Same Sex Couples”—stated:

“The Government has no plans to allow same-sex couples to marry. The proposals”

for civil registration

“are for an entirely new legal status of civil partnership”.

Just a decade later, we are in the House to discuss the matter again. When the Government say they have no plans to change the criteria for determining who can form a marriage, including a marriage between two people, their assurances are worthless. When I asked the Minister what consideration she had given to extending other forms of marriage, her response was that the law is pretty clear that marriage is between two people. Is that the same law that says that marriage is between one man and one woman? If so, another Government can simply change the definition to include as many partners as they want.

Three Members of the House have said they find it disgusting that people compare polygamy to same-sex marriage. I would challenge all three, if they had remained in the Chamber, to justify that. The assertion was particularly galling because my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) refused to take my intervention. I could have explained to him that no one has ever made that justification. For the record, I have never made that comparison, but the evidence from around the world is that, once marriage is redefined and has a flexible definition, pressure grows for further redefinition. That should come as no surprise. Several advocates of same-sex marriage openly support changing the law to permit polygamy.

In Holland, same-sex marriage was introduced in 2001. Three-way relationships have since been given legal recognition through cohabitation agreements. There have been attempts in Canada to legalise polygamy through the courts using same-sex marriage. In 2007, an appeal court in Ontario ruled that a child can legally have three parents.

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Polygamy already exists in this country. The Government recognised in 2007 that there were more than 1,000 bigamous or polygamous marriages in England and Wales. That was identified by Members and peers in the House of Lords. The unintended consequence of the Bill will be allowing the introduction of polygamous marriages, as advocated last night on television by Peter Tatchell. Therefore, I will vote against the Bill on behalf of almost 1,000 of my constituents who have made clear their opposition.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), I am angry that I have defended people who are homosexual, including many who have left the Chamber, who then deride me as a bigot, and send me text messages saying that I am wrong just because I do not support them. I bitterly resent that.

Equality does not mean that we should treat everything the same. We certainly do not have the right to redefine marriage over the heads of our constituents.

5.48 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The primary commandment is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I have been reminded by one ordained constituent that that should be used as a way of defining the second great commandment, which is to treat my neighbour as myself. Essentially, we are asking whether we can remove the barriers that stop same-sex couples enjoying the commitment—the “at one” meaning—of marriage. That is what the Bill comes down to. It does not redefine marriage; it just takes away barriers.

I was taught by three people who were homosexual. I only knew one was homosexual at the time. He got married aged 60 to a woman, one got murdered by a rent boy and one spent 30 years in the Community of the Resurrection. In his book, “Someday I’ll Find You”, Harry Williams, who also wrote “The True Resurrection” and “The True Wilderness”, explained the difficulty of coming to terms with his homosexuality. He should not have had to do that. He should have had the chance of a happy life, whether or not he chose to partner with somebody else.

People have said that there is huge psychological effect on a child of being brought up by two people of the same sex. That is not my experience of those I know. Incidentally, the children who turn out best are not those of a husband and wife married to each other throughout the child’s upbringing, but those of widows, because widows feel a sense of responsibility and have the support of society.

Leaving children aside, we ought to have the same kind of understanding that Margaret Thatcher showed when, in 1967, she voted for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. That was the year Chief Justice Warren of the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a unanimous judgment in a case called Loving v. Virginia, where a couple, one called “Black” and one called “White”, wanted to be married in the state of Virginia. Read the judgment and understand that that case got to the Supreme Court because people were putting arguments against people of different colour being able to live together. Those arguments are absurd now, and it is absurd that we are having this debate.

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The difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage is that in a civil partnership the registrar speaks and in a civil marriage the couple are able to say “I do” and “I declare”, in the same way that in church they say “I will”—but in the civil sense, that is the only difference. I wish that those who have spoken against the Government’s proposals—incidentally, they were foreshadowed in “A Contract for Equalities”, which was launched by the current Home Secretary before the general election—

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Three days before.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Three days before, as my hon. Friend says. Those who say that there was not a codicil, at least, in the manifesto are factually wrong. Most people did not know about it, but that is not the important point. We have had two and half years of notice and warning, but we ought to recognise that we in fact have had about 50 years.

If we go back, it is 177 years since civil marriage was brought in, and it is 187 years since the third English university was created where people could go without being an Anglican. We have to remember that we are taking away some of the barriers that we ought to have got rid of a long time ago.

A man called Tribe, in a book from 1935 called “The Christian Social Tradition”, stated:

“The problem of society is the finding of unity in diversity, and to reconcile freedom with order.”

I think that is loving my neighbour as myself, and that what I have experienced, good or bad, others should have a chance of choosing or avoiding. I have not experienced discrimination. I have watched others who have. I hope that when this matter is concluded those who have spent their time writing messages saying that we are all wrong will realise, as people did with the creation of civil partnerships, that maybe they can see life differently in the future.

5.52 pm

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): I will try, in this shortened time, to vary my comments. I have a deep respect for so many hon. Members who have put their heart and conscience on show in this debate. I approach this subject from idiosyncratic principles.

I was thinking only the other day that at the moment, along with other hon. Members, I am actively supporting the Plymouth Brethren’s right to equal charitable status with other groups. I will continue to do that, even though I am not a member of the Plymouth Brethren and even though the Plymouth Brethren live a life that is, shall we say, somewhat different from that of the majority of people or even from my lifestyle. I have always supported Jewish and Muslim communities in their attempts to maintain their faith—right through to halal, schechita and so on. I will continue to do that because I believe—I cannot remember which hon. Member said it—that the test of a civilised society is its protection of minorities. That is the kind of place I come from. Added to which, I am a Roman Catholic—a bad one I must admit, in all kinds of ways.

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I made a promise to my constituents that I would not support anything that brought any problems to Churches or faith groups—whether they be Plymouth Brethren, Muslims or Roman Catholics—if there was any challenge to their right to keep to their definition of marriage. I shall come back to theology, which has been mentioned by a number of people who are far more expert than me.

I am satisfied with the lock. The Danish example has been mentioned, but apparently in Denmark the Parliament did not include the protections that the Minister has provided for in the lock.

I equate this debate with what happened to divorce law in the previous century. Interestingly, in all this talk about marriage always being the same and its continued popularity, no one seems to have mentioned the loosening of the divorce laws. As I said, I am a Roman Catholic, and in that faith divorce is treated differently, but nobody, to my knowledge, has ever challenged the right of a Roman Catholic priest or, indeed, an Anglican to refuse to marry a divorced couple. It has never actually happened, and that is how I see this issue. I approach it with principles based on the reciprocity that exists in any democratic society between minorities and our protection of their rights. I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance.

Other Members mentioned civil partnerships. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) went slightly over the top and historically I think he was incorrect. It was not Rosa Parks to begin with. The principle of separate but equal was defined as wrong by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Topeka Education Board in 1959—if my history teaching is still there. Nevertheless, he was right about it being different. All we are asking for in the Bill, principally, is civil marriage. The majority of existing civil marriages are between divorcees, so the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise them anyway, and that is fine; it is permitted—and it will be permitted to keep its particular beliefs in this case as well.

Some faiths—this is where the theology gets complicated—and Christian groups actually want to carry out these marriages. I thought that was what I came here to do—to protect those freedoms and retain that balance. As I said, that is the principle I work on: a reciprocity between minorities in respect of their beliefs and right to carry on with their lifestyle as they wish, provided it does not interfere with that of others. I do not see how the Bill creates any problems with that or will prevent me in future from defending the Plymouth Brethren, the Jewish faith, my own Church’s faith or the Muslim faith.

5.56 pm

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Some people say that the Bill is just about semantics, but semantics matter and words express the values of our society. The Bill is part of an astonishing and wonderful change that has taken place over the past 50 years and which has taken millions of us from criminalisation to legal equality and the enjoyment of self-worth and validation.

Those sentiments were certainly not apparent to me as a young man. I thought there was something wrong with me that had to be mastered, and for three decades I managed that struggle. The relief and happiness that

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comes from not having to do so any longer is due to the courage of others who fought for all the measures to advance equality over the past five decades that are the precursors to today’s Bill. My comments need therefore to be understood in the context of my enthusiasm and appreciation for those who have been prepared to lead on this issue, particularly the Prime Minister.

The final line of the Stonewall briefing for the debate reads:

“Stonewall therefore urges you to support this modest final legislative measure of equality for homosexual men and women in England and Wales”.

As presented, however, the Bill is not the final measure. While civil partnerships remain open only to same-sex couples, we will have retained an inequality that we will have to revisit. However much I have tried to explain to my constituents that we propose to legislate to deliver equality in the eyes of the state, protecting the beliefs of the religious, I do not believe that my constituents of faith understand the distinction between marriage in the eyes of the state and marriage in the eyes of their God.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): I am a Catholic and religious freedoms are very important to me, as is my religion, but so too are equality and tolerance. I think that the Bill protects both those things. I came here to abstain, but I have listened to the debate like I have listened to no other, and it is now my intention not to abstain, but to support the Bill .

Mr Blunt: I am delighted to hear that intervention from my hon. Friend. I advocate that Members support the Bill and make those distinctions even clearer as the Bill passes through the House.

Much as the Bill will be another step forward; even unamended it gives us the vehicle properly to differentiate marriage in the eyes of the state from religious marriage. Simply put, we should be legislating for equal civil marriage and enabling religious organisations to carry out same-sex marriages if they wish to do so, and protecting them if they do not.

Mr Newmark: In supporting that point, I am sure my hon. Friend is aware of the book “Animal Farm”, in which all animals are equal but some are more equal than others, and is it not now time, in 21st-century Britain, that men should be allowed to marry men, women should be allowed to marry women, and men should be allowed to marry women in a civil marriage, not a religious marriage?

Mr Blunt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We need to distinguish between civil marriage in the eyes of the state, which we are absolutely entitled to legislate for—indeed, there is a requirement on us to do so—and marriage in the eyes of people’s gods and religious beliefs, which is different.

I therefore advocate a situation such as in France, where one ceremony is required in the eyes of the state as well as another religious service, or, preferably, for religious organisations to be able to deliver marriage in the eyes of the state. Either of those positions would be better than continuing inequality, and I predict that if we do not change this Bill, Parliament will have to revisit the issue.

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If this more fundamental change meets both the profound concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and a number of others and the test of permanent equality in the eyes of the state, it has much to recommend it. This Bill starts us down the right road, and I welcome it, but I urge the House to do a thorough job in Committee and on Report so as not to leave avoidable unfinished business.

6.1 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Like most hon. Members, I have thought long and hard about this issue. I am a keen proponent of equal opportunity, and I recently celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary so I greatly value the institution of marriage. Also like many hon. Members, I have received a large number of letters and e-mails on this subject. I therefore undertook my own research into the issues raised, and in July I published a paper setting out my response. At the time, I concluded that no compelling case had yet been made against the change. I stand by that paper’s conclusion; I wish us to move towards being a society more at ease with itself.

Since the Bill was published, e-mails have continued to be sent to me, and I have great respect for the deeply held views that have been expressed. I am particularly grateful to those who have entered into genuine debate with me and those who have put their own case with generosity of spirit. This is a matter of conscience and we must all respond with integrity, as we have done in this debate. The outcome at the ballot box must not be allowed to drive this important debate, and I resent the implication that it should.

In my paper, I pointed out that Spain served as a good example. It allowed gay civil marriage in 2005. There have been no changes since. The new conservative Government of the Partido Popular have not moved to change it, and life has gone on as normal. That is unsurprising, as fewer than 2% of marriages have been same-sex marriages.

Through discussion, I have come to realise that there is a lack of depth and a lack of clarity in some of the responses, and although support for this Bill today will serve to send it on to Committee for scrutiny, I am concerned that some of the issues may be too fundamental to be resolved by that process. I therefore ask Ministers how open they are likely to be in Committee to undertaking fundamental reform, including reviewing civil partnerships.

I, too, have been troubled by the issues before us. Deep down, I remain of the view that, in the end, it is right to make it legal for two people of the same gender to marry. I cannot comprehend that a gay marriage would undermine a heterosexual marriage, but I have come to question whether this Bill might have been prepared in haste, and whether it would be possible to address its deficiencies in Committee.

I am also sure that much of the public disquiet that is felt is due to the speed with which this proposal has come forward. I agree that it was in the equalities contract produced just before the general election, but it was not in our main manifesto, the coalition agreement or the Queen’s Speech. While none of that is essential for introducing legislation, a change of this type touches deep emotions and we need to allow time for proper reflection on the genuine concerns raised by so many

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people. We also need to allow for discussion and understanding; so far, there has only been time for argument and counter-argument.

Given my thoughts on this issue, I cannot in all conscience vote against the Bill, but I ask the Minister for reassurance that the Committee will play a fundamental role in looking at the issues involved and that we can begin the education process that has been missing over the past few months as one side has simply stood and shouted at the other.

6.5 pm

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): Many Members have already spoken powerfully and I have nothing to add to that expression of feeling. I want to speak about the reason for the Marriage Act 1836 coming into being, which is related to the matters that we are discussing today.

The Act was introduced to protect people who dissented from the common view at the time. Before 1836, people had to get married in a Church of England church, which was anathema to the many Roman Catholics, non-conformists and Quakers and the very small number of atheists. The then Government under Viscount Melbourne introduced the legislation to protect the liberties of those people. A case cited in the House at the time involved a Roman Catholic lady who had married a fellow Roman Catholic in a clandestine marriage. The husband then ran off and she was left destitute because they did not have a proper marriage contract in law.

The 1836 Act, in seeking to protect a number of minorities, was a very forward-looking piece of legislation. The arguments marshalled against it were not dissimilar to those that we are hearing today. It was argued that marriage was somehow exclusively the preserve of religion, and that extending it into the secular sphere in any way would devalue it. At that time, the number of people, such as atheists, who were married in secular ceremonies was minuscule, but the figure has now risen to 60% of marriages and we do not regard such marriages as being of any less worth or involving any less love than those that are conducted in a church. I believe that, 177 years later, we should now seek to protect the love, the freedoms and the liberties of another minority that has been oppressed and forgotten for so long.

6.7 pm

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): In some ways, this is the most difficult issue that I have faced in my two and a half years as an MP. The majority of my constituents support the proposal, but many do not and some of those people feel very strongly about it. Also, I find myself on a different side of the argument from some of my colleagues and close friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes).