Stephen Timms’s speech in marriage debate

The following speech was made in today’s parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by the Labour MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms, who is an Anglican. 

I want to set out misgivings about the Bill. I am not going to vote against it, because I do not object to its being scrutinised in Committee, but I expect to vote against it on Third Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has spoken of the Church of England marriage service in some of his interventions on this topic. He has been right to do so, not on the basis that if the Church of England says something it must be true, but on the basis that the Church of England was the custodian of marriage in Britain for hundreds of years. For many people, it still is.


The 1662 version of the Church of England service, which has been in use for the past 350 years, sets out three reasons for marriage. The first is that it was  “ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord”.

The central problem with the Bill is that it introduces a definition of marriage that includes the second and third reasons but drops that first one. The result is something that is a good deal weaker than the original.

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. If it was purely about a loving relationship between two people, as the Minister suggested earlier, it would have been much less important than it has actually been. Does that matter? Yes, it does, because it is right for society to recognise—as marriage does—the value to all of us of the contribution of those who bring children into the world and bring them up. That is the ideal that the current definition of marriage reflects, and it would be a mistake to lose the value that that definition places on the creation and bringing up of children. In the end, it will be children who will lose out if we do that.

Legal equality was delivered, quite rightly, by the introduction of civil partnerships, and if there are weaknesses in those arrangements, they should be put right. In particular, I see no problem with same-sex unions being celebrated in places of worship where congregations want to do so. A same-sex couple can have the same wish to affirm and to have affirmed a lifelong exclusive commitment as a man and a woman getting married, and we should value that and be willing to recognise and celebrate it. This Bill, however, affirms not that same-sex unions are equal with marriages, but rather that they are the same as marriages, when in reality they are not: they are different. I think we will be poorer if we adopt a watered-down definition of marriage based on two aims from the Church of England’s list instead of all three.

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