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On June 6, after two days of debate, the House of Lords overwhelmingly voted to give the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill a second reading.
Second reading stage is an opportunity to debate the general principle behind a bill. By convention, the House of Lords gives a second reading to all bills brought from the Commons. However, Crossbench peer Lord Dear sought to buck tradition and throw the bill out entirely.
“We find ourselves in a world where an ill-considered bill seeks to overturn centuries of tradition, heedless of public opinion and the views of religious leaders and blind to the laws of unintended consequences,” he said.
“There was no royal commission; no committee of inquiry; no mention of the bill in any party manifesto prior to the last general election; no report from any parliamentary Select Committee. The Leader of the Conservative Party, questioned on Sky television only three days before the general election, declared that he had no plans for such a bill. There was no Green Paper, no White Paper and no pre-legislative scrutiny,” he continued.
Lord Dear also accused the government of attempting to stifle debate in the Commons, noting that bill only received five days’ debate in committee compared to the fourteen days given to the Hunting Act during Tony Blair’s premiership.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, also condemned the bill. “Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape, with same-gender and different-gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost,” he said.
“The idea of marriage as a covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society, as we have already heard, is weakened. I am sure that these points will be expanded on by others in the debate, including those from these Benches,” he continued.
However, the leader of the Labour peers, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, gave an eloquent defense of the bill. “I have to say, however, that I simply do not understand those who say that equal marriage can harm or undermine marriage between a man and a woman. Surely if we value and cherish marriage, we should want all those who wish to marry to be able to do so, and we should welcome the fact that marriage would be strengthened by opening it up to more couples,” she said.
“Surely we should be encouraging our young people, who see the love and strength their parents draw from their marriage, to aspire to the same commitment regardless of whether it is with another man or another woman.”
Although many pundits had predicted that the result of the vote would be too close to call, Lord Dear’s wrecking amendment was defeated by 390 votes to 148. With such a large majority in favor, the bill is almost certain to make it onto the statute book.
Although many Church of England bishops voted in favor of Lord Dear’s amendment, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt. Rev. David Walker, announced that his brethren in the upper house will work to improve the bill rather than frustrate its progress.
“The issue now is not primarily one of protections and exemptions for people of faith, important though it is to get that right, not least where teaching in schools and freedom of speech are concerned,” he said.
“The bill now requires improvement in a number of other key respects, including in its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children.”
Image credit: Gay Marriage UK via Facebook