THEY did not break into song
as the New Zealand Parliament did last month, but applause broke
out in the House of Commons on Tuesday night, after MPs voted to
send the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to the House of
MPs approved the Bill at its
Third Reading by 366 to 161. But 133 Conservatives voted against
the Government, including two Cabinet ministers - the Environment
Secretary, Owen Paterson, and the Wales Secretary, David Jones.
Lord Dear, a crossbencher who is expected to lead the opposition to
the Bill in the House of Lords, told The Times that he
might table a "fatal motion" to kill it off.
On Wednesday, the Bishop of
Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who has led the bishops in the
House of Lords on the issue, said: "We clearly cannot support the
Bill because it is contrary to the Church's historic teaching on
the nature of marriage."
He said, however, that he
would want to recognise "that the Government has done a great deal
to accommodate some of the Church's concerns, and to make it clear
that individual clergy cannot be proceeded against by anybody".
"Hard work" had been done "to ensure that the Canons of the Church
of England will not contravene the civil law of England".
Bishop Stevens said that he
intended to seek more concessions from the Government: further
guarantees for teachers in church schools "to teach a traditional
view of marriage", and a "freedom-of-speech amendment to ensure
those who argue for a traditional view of marriage are not treated
as if they are in contempt of the law or behaving
The Bill will receive its
Second Reading in the House of Lords on 3 June. Bishop Stevens said
that the House did not traditionally take a vote at this stage, but
that this might happen. Individual bishops would then have to
decide how to vote.
The Bill passed its Second
Reading in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175 in February (
News, 8 February).
Before the vote, the Culture
Secretary, Maria Miller, said: "The Government have throughout
remained committed to the principle that people should not be
excluded from marriage simply because of who they love. . . If the
values of marriage are the values on which we want to build our
society, they must be available to all, and they must underpin an
institution that is available to all couples. . .
"We have a rich tapestry of
faith, belief and culture. That is unique - it is part of what
makes us British. Those strong traditions will enable same-sex
couples to marry."
The Shadow Equalites
Minister, Yvette Cooper, said that MPs on both sides of the House
felt "proud to support it and to be on the right side of history".
Referring to the singing of a Maori love song in the New Zealand
Parliament after the legalisation of same-sex marriage there, she
suggested "a Eurovision-style chorus of 'Congratulations', or
perhaps Abba-style - probably not 'One Man, One Woman', but
certainly 'I do, I do, I do, I do, I do'."
Opposition in the House to
the Bill was led by David Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield
Southgate, and a member of Christians in Parliament, who sat on the
Bill Committee. He urged members who believed in "traditional
marriage and in liberty" to vote against it.
"What unites the opposition
to the Bill is an unshakeable belief that will not accept the
state's redefinition of marriage, and will recognise only the
distinctive value of marriage as the bringing together of one man
and one woman." He warned that those who disagreed with the Bill
risked "vilification and discrimination".
On Monday, Mr Burrowes
pushed three amendments to the Bill. All were defeated, but secured
the support of many Conservatives.
The first vote was held on a
"conscientious objection" amendment to ensure that registrars could
not be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages.
A minister at the Department
for Culture, Media and Sport, Hugh Robertson, said that it would
not be "appropriate or right" to allow the opt-out: "Like it or
not, they are public servants who should carry out the will of
Parliament, and allowing exemptions according to conscience, in my
view, sets a difficult precedent."
The amendment was lost by
150 votes to 340. More than 100 Conservative MPs voted for the
amendment, including Iain Duncan Smith.
The campaign director of
Coalition for Marriage, Colin Hart, said on Monday: "The growing
rebellion against the Bill shows that we are winning the argument
and gaining momentum."
MPs also rejected, by 339
votes to 148, an amendment designed to ensure that "a belief
regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a
woman" enjoyed the status of a "protected characteristic of
religion or belief" under the Equality Act (2010).
Mr Robertson argued,
however, that such protection was unnecessary: "Philosophical
beliefs are protected if they are genuinely held, and we are
entirely confident that the belief that marriage should be only
between a man and a woman meets those criteria 100 per cent."
Mr Burrowes also pushed to
the vote an amendment seeking to protect Churches other than the
Church of England from claims of discrimination if they opted out
of conducting same-sex marriages. This was lost by 163 votes to
The Government did offer to
provide "the safeguards that are necessary to meet colleagues'
concerns, where those concerns are justified". This included
tabling an amendment to ensure that ministers of religion employed
by secular organisations who did not wish to conduct same-sex
marriages would be protected from claims under the Equality Act
Mr Burrowes withdrew an
amendment designed to ensure that schools were not under any duty
to "promote or endorse" same-sex marriage, after Mr Robertson
promised that the Government would review and amend, in the House
of Lords, guidance for schools.
On Tuesday, Mrs Miller
sought to reassure those opposed to same-sex marriage: "No
religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to
conduct same-sex marriages if they choose not to do so, and nor
will religious organisations or individual ministers be forced to
have same-sex marriages conducted on their premises. . .
"The Government are also
clear that the Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or
outside, from expressing their belief that marriage should be
between a man and a woman. That is their right. Teachers will still
be able to express their personal beliefs about marriage, as long
as they do so sensitively and appropriately."
The Second Church Estates
Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said that the Government had
"constructively engaged" with the Church of England, and that the
Bill "has at its heart protections for faith groups"; these were
"based on buildings".
On Monday, the Government
also defeated an amendment, tabled by the Conservative MP Tim
Loughton, to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. But
it relied on the support of the Opposition to do so.
Mrs Miller warned that the
amendment risked delaying the implementation of the Bill.
Sir Tony said that it was
"difficult to see how extending or setting up a rival competition
to marriage will enhance the concept of marriage", and stated that
the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England "strongly
oppose" the proposal.
On Tuesday, an amendment to
introduce "Humanist marriage" was withdrawn by the Opposition,
after the Attorney-General claimed that it would render the Bill
"incompatible with the provisions of the European Convention on
Sir Tony said that the
Church of England was "strongly opposed" to the proposal, "not
because we do not love or like Humanists, but simply because it
would unpick the locks in the Bill" which protected faith
Christians on both sides of
the debate spoke during the course of the two days. Jeffrey
Donaldson, of the Democratic Unionist party, said: "Our opposition
to the redefinition of marriage is not born of prejudice. It is not
born of homophobia. It is born of a deep sense of our Christian
faith, and I hope that that can be respected."
Stuart Andrew, Conservative
MP for Pudsey, said: "Religious faith is not just the preserve of
heterosexuals. One of my hardest challenges was balancing my
sexuality with my faith. It has taken me years to do that, and, as
I said at the time, some of those battles were the hardest and
darkest in my life."
The debate on Monday took
place shortly after the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
voted to allow congregations to call a minister in a civil
On Tuesday, Tiggy Sagar from Christians for Equal Marriage UK
said: "We look to an eventual reconciling of the various Christian
denominations with all those who have felt excluded and alienated
due to their sexual orientation. The Church should realise that
there are many people who would be part of church communities, were
they to feel more welcome."