The following speech was made in today’s parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Edward Leigh, who is a Catholic.
We should indeed treat one another with tolerance and treat everybody’s sexuality with understanding, but the fundamental question we are deciding today is whether English law should declare for the first time that two people of the same sex can marry.
Parliament is sovereign—we can vote for what we want—but we must be very careful that law and reality do not conflict. In 1648, the Earl of Pembroke, in seeking to make the point that Parliament is sovereign, said that Parliament can do anything but make a man a woman or a woman a man. Of course, in 2004, we did exactly that with the Gender Recognition Act. We are now proposing to make equally stark changes to the essence of marriage. During the civil partnership debates, I was given solemn assurances on the Floor of the House, including by some sitting on the Opposition Benches now, that the Civil Partnership Act would not lead to full same-sex marriage.
The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church beautifully describes the institution. Anybody of any faith or no faith who supports traditional marriage could echo these words. The catechism says that marriage is a “covenant” in which “a man and a woman establish themselves in a partnership” for “the whole of life”, and that marriage is “by its nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.”
What does that tell us? I and many millions of our fellow citizens believe that marriage is, by its nature, a heterosexual union. We believe it is the bringing together of one man and one woman. It is not just a romantic attachment, which can exist between any two people, and nor is it just a sexual relationship. The act of marriage, by its very definition, requires two people of opposite sexes. If we take that basic requirement away, what we are left with is not marriage.
The Minister claims that marriage has always evolved. The Bill is not evolution, but revolution. It is true that I am blessed with six children. I realise that not every married couple is able to have the gift of children, and that some married couples may not want it, yet that does not change the fact that the concept of marriage has always been bestowed with a vision of procreation.
Every marriage has procreating potential in that marriage brings together biologically the two elements needed to generate a child. The very reason that marriage is underpinned with laws and customs is that children often result from it. They need protecting from the tendency of adults to want to break their ties and cast off their responsibilities. Marriage exists to keep the parents exclusively committed to each other, because, on average, that is the best and most stable environment for children. If marriage were solely about the relationship between two people, we would not bother to enshrine it in law, and nor would every culture, society and religion for thousands of years have invested it with so much importance. Marriage is about protecting the future.
Marriage is not about “me, me, me”, nor about legally validating “my rights” and “my relationships”; it is about a secure environment for creating and raising children, based on lifelong commitment and exclusivity. Marriage is also profoundly pro-woman—it is generally men who have the greater propensity to want to wander off into other relationships, when, in general, women are left holding the baby.
We must get away from the idea that every single thing in life can be forced through the merciless prism of equality. I am a Conservative. I believe we should be concerned with equality, but not at the expense of every other consideration—not at the expense of tradition. We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage. Otherwise, what is a Conservative party for? Indeed, we are alienating people who have voted for us all their lives, and leaving them with no one to vote for.
I should add a comment from a lady who e-mailed me. She said: “As a gay woman in a 24 year relationship, I commend you for your stand against the nonsense now being perpetrated by” the Government. “We have civil partnerships to give legal protections, I contracted one in 2006. I have been a Conservative voter for 50 years…and see this latest piece of nonsense as a final kick in the teeth for loyal Conservatives.”
I will vote tonight to proclaim my support for the future of our children and for the essence of traditional marriage.