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Gay marriage Bill passed easily by Commons

08 February 2013


Coming out in favour: the House of Commons votes for same-sex mar­riage on Tuesday

Coming out in favour: the House of Commons votes for same-sex mar­riage on Tuesday

THE Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill received strong support from MPs on Tuesday, passing its Second Reading in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175. The free vote followed about six hours of debate, during which Christian MPs spoke for and against the legislation.

The Bill received the support of the majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, but voting among Conservative MPs was divided: 136, including 12 ministers, voted against the Bill; 127 voted for it; and 40 abstained.

The Bill will now proceed to Committee stage, where clauses and amendments will be debated. It is likely to encounter opposition when it reaches the House of Lords.

On Monday, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said that he supported "the Church of England's position" on same-sex marriage, set out in "statements" that have asserted "that marriage is a union between one man and one woman" ( News, 1 February).

Opening the debate on the Bill's Second Reading, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, said: "The depth of feeling, love, and commitment between same-sex couples is no different from that depth of feeling between opposite-sex couples. The Bill enables society to recognise that commitment in the same way, too, through marriage. . .

"There is no single view on equal marriage from religious organisations. Some are deeply opposed to it; others tell us that they see this as an opportunity to take their faith to a wider community."

During the debate, a number of Christian MPs spoke in favour of the legislation. David Lammy, the Labour Member for Tottenham, said that the Bill respected religious freedom, and marked the "end of an organic journey from criminalisation to equality for the gay community that began over half a century ago. . .

"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."

Jonathan Reynolds, the Labour Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, said that he supported same-sex marriage "because I am a Christian, not in spite of it. . . I genuinely cannot see how my support for equal marriage undermines my own marriage, the marriage of anyone else, or marriage as an institution. If anything, I believe it strengthens it."

David Burrowes, the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who is one of the leading opponents of the Bill, quoted a briefing given by the parliamentary unit and legal office at Church House last week, which expressed "serious doubts about whether the proffered legal protection for churches and faiths from discrimination claims would prove durable".

Mr Burrowes said: "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."

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said that he and the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who convenes the bishops in the House of Lords, were "appreciative" of the Government's attempts to protect religious freedom.

Sir Tony said, however, that there was "an inevitable degree of risk in all this, given that it would ultimately be for the courts, and in particular the Strasbourg court, to decide whether provisions in the legislation are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"There is absolutely no doubt that once marriage is redefined in this very fundamental way, a number of new legal questions will arise, and no one can be sure what the eventual outcome will be. The Government believe that this is a risk worth taking. The Church of England does not."

The Labour MP Stephen Timms, who is an Evangelical, said that the "central problem" with the Bill was that it introduced a definition of marriage that did not include the "procreation of children", as in the 1662 marriage service.

"Children are at the heart of marriage, but they are barely mentioned in the Bill. It aims to open up the benefits of marriage to people who are excluded from it at the moment, but it does so at the price of taking away a significant part of the meaning of marriage. Children are the reason that marriage has always been so important."

A number of Conservative MPs said that they had not stood on a mandate to introduce same-sex marriage. John Glen, the Conservative member for Salisbury, said: "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" ( News, 1 February).

Question of the Week: Should the Government now rethink the legislation on same-sex marriage?

CAMPAIGNERS against the legalisation of same-sex marriage showed no signs of conceding defeat, after a majority of MPs endorsed the Government's Bill on Tuesday, writes Ed Thornton.

Colin Hart, the director of the Coalition for Marriage, which has co-ordinated a petition signed by more than 600,000 people, said that the 175 MPs who voted against the Bill represented an "astonishing . . . scale of opposition".

Mr Hart continued: "Mr Cameron hopes that this matter is now settled. He is wrong. . . More importantly, this is not the end of the fight against these ill-thought-through and divisive plans. There are more votes in the Commons, more speeches, potentially dozens of amendments, and then the Bill will go to the Lords, where the voting arithmetic is very differ- ent."

The RC Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Revd Peter Smith, said that the Commons debate had shown "that the Government has not thought through a number of profound problems in the Bill raised by Members of Parliament during the debate. It will be extremely important that the many concerns we and others have expressed will be fully and carefully considered during the next stages."

A new group representing Conservative activists was launched on Sunday, when a delegation of Conservative Association chairmen delivered a letter to Downing Street expressing concerns about the Bill.

Ed Costelloe, who resigned as chairman of Somerton & Frome Conservative Association in protest at the Bill, said: "The Government cannot get away from the fact that this was not in any of the major parties' manifestos, nor was it in the Coalition agreement. It cannot be avoided that there is no mandate."

Christian campaigners in favour of same-sex marriage welcomed the vote on Tuesday. The Quakers' Recording Clerk, Paul Parker, said: "Three-and-a-half years ago, Quakers decided that same-sex couples should be able to marry in a Quaker meeting. Since then, we have been waiting for the law to catch up."

Christians for Equal Marriage UK said that it was "thrilled that Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour", but "the battle's not over yet. Same-sex couples are still not treated as equal by most churches, and cannot get married in church."

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