Sal Brinton: “Now is the time for equal marriage”

wedding ringsYesterday, the Lords debated the Marriage (same sex couples ) Bill. Outside, a well attended good humoured vigil took place, with singing from the London Gay Men’s Chorus filtering into the Chamber. Having seen them brighten up a wet and freezing cold evening at a hate crimes vigil last year, I can attest to their talent.

Only three Liberal Democrats took part in the debate last night so we are publishing their speeches in full. Liz Barker’s is here and John Alderdice’s is here. The vote is not taking place until around 4:30 this afternoon so there is still time to contact them if you want to talk about any aspect of their remarks. Those nice people at Out4Marriage have created a Lobby a Lord site to help you.

There were many speeches against the Bill which were inaccurate, with flawed logic and were deeply offensive. Norman Tebbit actually said:

The rights of a homosexual man are identical to mine. Subject to the laws on incest and bigamy, we are each free to marry a woman.

Former Conservative Home Secretary David Waddington told an absolute whopper, accusing Nick Clegg of describing opponents of the Bill as bigots, which he never has done.

Lord Dannatt, who voted in favour of secret courts, a measure that was in nobody’s manifesto, called the bill an abuse of the democratic process akin to terrorism in Northern Ireland and the invasion of the Falklands.

It made me angry that LGBT people in the UK had to listen to such ill-informed prejudice come from their Parliament. Thankfully, though, there was  quite a lot of respite, with compelling, inspiring, genuine and heartfelt speeches in support. Sal’s speech was one such example. Here it is in full.

My Lords, last month it was wonderful to hear the general acclamation in the House for the First Reading of the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill. It was the first time in my brief two and a half years in your Lordships’ Chamber that I have heard such a response to the First Reading of a Bill. It demonstrates how societal attitudes towards homosexuality have moved on over the past 60 years. It was brought home to me five years ago when my husband and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary and two close gay friends invited us to their civil partnership, with a date chosen to mark 25 years of their private commitment to one another. Over that 25-year period they have been harassed and attacked, and are so cautious still that they would rather that I did not mention them by name. That ceremony was a moving event, but it was not marriage; it was a legal arrangement

that helped provide them with certain protections, but it was not the commitment that you have with marriage. I support civil partnerships but believe that marriage should be available to those who want to make that greater commitment.

The core of marriage to me as a Christian—and, by the by, as a member of the Church of England—is that the commitment made by two people of their undying love to each other, through good times and bad, through sickness and health, stable and faithful, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop mentioned, is a building block of our society. I respect those for whom the theological arguments are core to their beliefs and practice but, frankly, I struggle to find those arguments expressed by Jesus himself in the New Testament. I also want to quote from the letter of the Bishop of Salisbury, who I suspect will be quoted frequently today. He says:

“The desire for the public acknowledgment and support of stable, faithful, adult, loving same sex sexual relationships is not addressed by the six Biblical passages about homosexuality which are concerned with sexual immorality, promiscuity, idolatry, exploitation and abuse. The theological debate is properly located in the Biblical accounts of marriage, which is why so many Christians see marriage as essentially heterosexual. However, Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience”.

He goes on to cite slavery and the apartheid system in South Africa. I would add to that the church’s view, and that of society, about contraception early in the 20th century. My noble kinswoman Baroness Stocks was roundly and publicly harassed for working alongside Marie Stopes for early contraception. Society today would be horrified if that were to be repeated.

There are other faith groups that agree that same sex marriage is important. I briefly quote from Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, from the progressive West London Synagogue, who says:

“Judaism holds that every person was created in the image of God. It is clear to me that the divine image in all of us demands from each of us that we be treated equally before the law. As such, I am divinely obligated to respect the needs and wishes of my congregants—whether they be straight or gay, lesbian or bisexual”.

The Quakers, as ever, set the pace on this. In 1963, in their paper, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, they said:

“Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters; one must not judge by its outward appearance but by its inner worth … We see no reason why the physical nature of a sexual act should be the criterion by which the question whether or not it is moral should be decided. An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual”.

The Quakers see God in everyone, and all commitments to relationships as of equal worth. So I am pleased that the Quakers have said publicly that they will opt into the registration arrangements and carry out equal marriage with enthusiasm.

The quadruple lock protects and facilitates same-sex marriage for religious groups. Speaking as a member of the Church of England, I hope that we might begin a debate that acknowledges the breadth of views within our church, even if the noise from those opposed to equal marriage is louder than that made by those of us who believe that love and marriage is God-given to all.

Very briefly, I turn to Clause 12 in Part 2, which rights a dreadful wrong faced by transgender people in a marriage. It has caused immense distress to those already facing the turmoil of major changes in their lives. I am delighted that these proposals now accept that changed gender status should not imperil an existing marriage.

I, like others, am concerned about voting at Second Reading. My point is that as Peers we should not be voting on whether we like or dislike the Bill. It is important that we give this House the chance to debate and amend as we see fit—a strength that this House has shown to another place on many occasions.

Our society has moved on even in the eight years since the introduction of civil partnerships. Surveys show that a majority of people welcome same-sex marriage—including, as has already been mentioned, three out of five of those with faith. It is important that we move forward to hearing that public voice. Now is the time for equal marriage. Please do not let my friends have to wait another 20 years, until their golden anniversary, before they can choose to marry.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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