Some speeches in the Lords debate from peers who are not bishops also make instructive reading. Here are a few of them.
…Finally, I return to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I hope that he will not feel it is unfair if I call him my “old friend”, as indeed he is. I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship. As a practising Christian, perhaps I may make the point to the Bishops’ Benches, including to the most reverend Primate, that there is every reason why, in time, the Anglican Church should come to accept that, although I recognise that it may take some time. The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.
My Lords, I am a passionate supporter of the Bill. I support it because I believe in the institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of society and should be open to all. I support it because I believe in the values of the family, and the Bill will, in my view, strengthen them. I support it because I am a Conservative. Respect for individual liberty is at the core of my being and this is a Bill that will add to the sum of human freedom. I support it because I am a Christian and I believe we are all equal in the eyes of God, and should be so under man’s laws. I support it because I am one of those people who I fear were rather glibly derided by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, as being part of a tiny minority and, I think, were praised by my noble friend Lady Knight as being delightful, in that I am gay. I am in a civil partnership with somebody with whom I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century. I love him very much and nothing would give me greater pride than to marry him. I hope noble Lords will forgive that personal pronouncement, but it seems to me that my experience goes to the heart of this debate…
Lord Blair of Boughton (formerly Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police)
…It is rather odd that I am speaking between the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Nearly 50 years ago, I sat in a room in Chester Cathedral taking my common entrance exam in order to go to Wrekin College, where the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was a teacher. We are in a different country to that of 1965. No Member of your Lordships’ House could then have made the speeches that we have heard today about being gay. When I took that exam, abortion was illegal, capital punishment was on the statute books, homosexual acts in private were matters for criminal law, and there was no race relations legislation whatever. We are in a much better country, and the tide of history is running in only one direction.
The Bill represents a great and noble cause—what the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, described as a moral cause. I suggest that, for a non-elected House to object to the Bill in this way, particularly after the events of this last weekend, would damage the reputation of this House.
My last point relates to the quadruple lock. I received many letters—as did all noble Lords—one of which I have one in my hand. It is from a young Christian gay man and it is in ink, so I cannot imagine that he sent it to 850 people, though some other noble Lords may have had it. In it he wrote that he was unable to reconcile his Christianity with his sexuality, and the fact that the Bill was being considered at all was helping him combine those two facets.
St Paul wrote to the Galatians that in Jesus Christ there is neither male or female, gentile or Jew, slave or free. I do not think that that was a coded message that everybody was okay except gays. It was an inclusive statement. As a member of the Anglican world, I hope that one day, before I die, I will see the Anglican Church unlock that quadruple lock from the inside…
Lord Deben (formerly Mr John Gummer MP and at one time a prominent Anglican but now a Roman Catholic
My Lords, it seems to me that one of the difficulties we have when faced with something that appears to be so new is that we cannot quite imagine what it must have been like when something like this happened in the past. However, there is a direct 19th century parallel to the debate we are having here. It was the argument about the right of a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister. That battle was horrendous. The Table of Kindred and Affinity, that schoolboy refuge from boring sermons, specifically forbids such a union. It is the same chapter of Leviticus that condemns gay sex, and it called marriage with your dead wife’s sister an abomination. On that basis, your Lordships’ House stopped reform from 1835 right up to 1907. Last week, I reread the arguments of
those who scuppered the reform, and I fear that I have heard them all again today. Your Lordships then complained about rushed legislation. They said that it would be the end of marriage and that it would encourage incest. They hinted at polygamy. They said in particular that for 2,000 years such an outrageous thing had never been contemplated, and yet, once passed, that most controversial of Acts was wholly accepted. The Church of England revised the Table of Kindred and Affinity so that what was once an abomination is now holy matrimony.
It was the science that did it. Once we understood consanguinity, we distinguished between relationships that were genetically dangerous and those which were simply culturally arguable, and so it is with gay marriage. Once we understand scientifically that some people are solely attracted to their own sex, we realise that homosexual practice is not heterosexuals behaving badly, but gay people behaving naturally. That automatically means that the state can no longer exclude this minority. As a result, in my lifetime we have moved from criminalisation almost to equality. Today, we have the chance to complete that journey, to accept the science, and to allow civil marriage for all.
This is civil marriage. State marriage has diverged from church teaching for more than 150 years; some would even say since Henry VIII rigged the rules to his own advantage, but that would be an embarrassment to some Members of this noble House. As a convert Catholic, I have chosen to accept that Christian marriage is about procreation, that it is indissoluble, and that there is no such thing as divorce. Yet, as a parliamentarian, I cannot demand that non-Catholics should accept that definition. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, has reminded us on other occasions, marriage is owned neither by church nor state. Otherwise, I have to say to the noble and right reverend Lord that I am worried about the basis of his theology. It seems to be stuck in an earlier age. There are no echoes of René Girard, one of the greatest theologians of our time. There is no word from Dom Sebastian Moore, not a touch of James Alison. It remains a theology that has not come to terms with Freud. In that it is a precise parallel with the 19th-century bishops who spoke here in that debate and who like Samuel Wilberforce had a theology that could not admit of Darwin.
There are, of course, those who say, “Why can’t these homosexuals make do with civil partnerships?” That is entirely to miss the point. Civil partnership is a means of protecting legal rights. Marriage is a public affirmation of love. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, says that marriage is at the heart of love. He is saying that this House should say to homosexuals that they may not express their love in that way. Married for 37 years, I find that offensive. As a parliamentarian, I cannot say that to fellow citizens. I cannot accept a society that will not go that far…
…Many to whom I have spoken in the Church of England have argued that allowing same sex couples to marry would risk the breakdown of the Anglican communion—the African churches would pull away. Last week in Nigeria, a law was passed prohibiting gay marriage and banning gay organisations with a 14-year prison sentence for anyone who advocates gay marriage—that is, people like me making arguments like these. The church should not be opposing same-sex marriage because of the African churches; the church should be supporting it because of African churches.
I want them to show the same leadership that they have shown on issues such as tackling debt and poverty. That is a fight well worth fighting. If the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and others on the Benches Spiritual support civil partnerships, then I, like many gay people, wait with bated breath for the liturgy to allow civil partnerships to be blessed in churches. They have talked the talk; it is now time to walk the walk…
…What are the grounds for saying that Parliament should not exercise its rights to extend the provision of marriage? It is claimed that permitting same-sex marriage devalues marriage. That is not an argument but rather an assertion of moral superiority. It rests in good measure on a rewriting of history—a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross—and on biblical text. The Bible has been used to justify all sorts of discrimination that we now regard as morally abhorrent. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury has noted, the text of the Bible has not changed, but our understanding has. In every sphere of life we are constantly learning, except, apparently, in this one respect, where we cling to a view held 4,000 years ago.
Much of the debate has been conducted as if we were the first nation contemplating the introduction of same-sex marriage. We can learn from what has happened elsewhere. Most of the nations that permit same-sex marriage are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. Their churches have not been forced to do anything by the European Court of Human Rights that they do not wish to do. We have heard assertions in this debate that the introduction of same-sex marriage has led to a decline in heterosexual marriage. I have the figures here, which are readily available in the briefing paper produced by the House of Commons Library. Some countries have seen a decline in traditional marriage, notably Portugal and Spain, but in Portugal that was happening before the introduction of same-sex marriage. In Belgium the figures for traditional marriages went up, not down. A study of the Netherlands found that trends in marriage and divorce did not change. In nations where it has been introduced, support for same-sex marriage has increased, and none of the dire consequences predicted as a result of the passage of this Bill appear to have been experienced. Of course, if anyone can show otherwise, they can bring it up in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, “What next?” Well, nothing, unless we will it. Things will not happen unless Parliament decides that something should happen. That is a key point. Nothing is suddenly going to translate from this action unless Parliament wants any further action to be taken. It is in our gift.
I end with the words of Paul Parker of the Quakers in Britain:
“For us marriage is not a mere civil contract, but a religious act. While we don’t seek to impose this on anyone, for us this is an issue of religious freedom”.
The principled case for supporting the Bill is, to my mind, compelling.