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Britain’s House of Lords has passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, paving the way for gay couples to marry in England and Wales by next summer.
Many peers wore pink carnations in a show of support for marriage equality. Most of speeches were supportive. Openly gay Labour peer Lord Alli praised the Lords’ work on the bill. “I have been truly humbled to have been part of the Bill in this place,” he said.
“This week will mark the 15th anniversary of my entry into your Lordships’ House. As a gay man, over those 15 years you have changed my life. You have given me dignity where there was sometimes fear, you have given me hope where there was often darkness and you have given me equality where there was sometimes prejudice. Those who want radically to reform this place come with their plans. Let me say this to them: witness this day; witness this Bill; judge us on the creation of the liberties that we protect and extend,” he continued.
Similarly, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt. Rev. Graham James, expressed support for the bill as well, even though the Church of England itself will not allow same-sex couples to marry in its churches. “It is no secret that the majority of Christian churches and other world faiths do not believe that same-sex marriage accords with their understanding of marriage itself,” he said.
“However, many of us, including on these Benches, welcome the social and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships and believe that our society is a better and healthier one for such recognition.”
The bill’s few opponents saved their speeches until the very end, when the House debated final passage. Tory peer Lord Cormack asked supporters of gay marriage to remember that many people “who by no stretch of the imagination could be called either homophobic or bigoted,” would be unhappy with the bill.
Similarly, another Tory, Lord Framlingham, said that “[t]oday has the potential to be deeply sad for this House and for millions of people—children, parents, families, teachers, clergymen—indeed, anyone who believes in the traditional family unit and its fundamental role in the life and cohesion of our country.”
However, their colleague, Lord Fowler, struck a much different note. Referring to homophobia in countries like Russia and Uganda, he said that he hoped they would take note of what the Lord were doing. “It is a plea for equality and for non-discrimination. That is the hope and the message that I hope goes out from this House. I believe that, very shortly, the Government will have done a great thing here and I congratulate them on it.”
In the end, there was not enough opposition to the bill to warrant a division, and it passed on a voice vote. It now goes back to the House of Commons so that MPs can vote on the amendments that the Lords made. Given the uncontroversial nature of the amendments, this should be a formality, in which case the bill will probably receive the Royal Assent within a week or so.
The fact that the Lords passed legislation to legalize gay marriage with a voice vote shows just how dramatically the House has changed over the past two decades. It is hard to believe that this is the same body that fought tooth-and-nail against attempts to equalize the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual intercourse back in 2000.
Photo Courtesy of Matt Buck