Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Maria Miller, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Eric Pickles, Hugh Robertson, Lynne Featherstone, Mrs Helen Grant and Jo Swinson, presented a Bill to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 126) with explanatory notes (Bill 126-EN).
The Leader of the House of Commons announced that the Second Reading (first stage of actual debate) of the bill will take place on 5 February.
The text of the bill, and an explanatory note, are available here.
The impact assessment is also linked from that page.
Meanwhile, some news reports and comment:
Yesterday was also one of the days for Questions to be asked of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry. In relation to this topic, and on the related topic of Civil Partnerships, here is what he said:
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the implications of same-sex marriage for the Church.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church has had a series of discussions with the Government Equalities Office and officials over the past few weeks regarding the drafting of the Government’s Bill. There have also been meetings between senior Church representatives and the Secretary of State.
The Church of England’s position on the issues of principle were set out clearly in the published submission from the two archbishops last June. I understand that the Bill is to be published later today, and I would prefer to defer any further comment on the detailed drafting of it until Second Reading, which I understand will be soon.
Miss McIntosh: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Will he give an indication of the timetable that the Church would need in order to implement the rather complicated system envisaged in the Bill?
Sir Tony Baldry: That will depend largely on the timetable set out in the Bill, and my hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to clarify one important point. The Church of England is not asking for any special treatment or protection under this legislation; the issue is simply that the Bill should be drafted to ensure that the Church of England has the same freedoms as all other Churches and denominations to decide these matters for itself, and that, of course, must reflect the unique legal position of the Church of England.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Speaking as someone who had a heterosexual marriage celebrated and registered in church, I hope that the Church Commissioners will explain to Colin Hart, the self-appointed campaign director of the so-called Coalition for Marriage, that having unity and diversity is a good idea, and that nobody in the Church of England ought to be worried about same-sex couples having the same opportunities of marrying as those of the opposite sex.
Sir Tony Baldry: These are issues that we will each have to address on a free vote on the Bill’s Second Reading, which I understand will take place soon. It may be for the convenience of the House if I give a brief summary of the submissions made by both archbishops in response to the Government’s earlier consultation, so that there is no ambiguity about the Church of England’s position. In their summary, the two archbishops said:
“The Church of England cannot support the proposal to enable ‘all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.’ Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history…To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships. We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.”
And here on Civil partnerships:
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the policy of the Church of England is on celebrating civil partnerships.
Sir Tony Baldry: The Church of England’s position remains as set out in the House of Bishops pastoral statement of July 2005. A working group chaired by the former Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary, Sir Joseph Pilling, is reviewing the Church’s approach to sexuality more generally and will submit a report to the House of Bishops by the end of this year. A private member’s motion seeking to authorise the registration of civil partnerships in Church of England churches is due for discussion in the General Synod in due course.
Mr Bradshaw: As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of senior Church of England bishops have, in the context of the debate on same-sex marriage, expressed their support for civil partnerships, but would the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage, and the distinction it tries to draw, be more credible and have more authority if it allowed Church of England parishes that want to conduct civil partnerships to do so?
Sir Tony Baldry: The right hon. Gentleman makes his point well. Given the sensitivity of the issue, the most sensible thing for me to do is to ensure that his comments and those of any other right hon. and hon. Members are drawn to the attention of Sir Joseph Pilling.