The following speech was made in today’s parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, who is a Catholic.
I will give my personal view, which I know differs from the views of the vast majority of members of my party. I respect that difference.
For the first time in history, a Government have proposed a Bill that will change the very nature of marriage in law. Until now, society and the Church have had a shared view of the essential purpose of marriage. It is primarily an institution that supports the bearing and raising of children in a committed and constant relationship. The traditional understanding of marriage has three basic elements: it is between a man and a woman, it is for life, and it is to the exclusion of all others.
Article 16 of the universal declaration of human rights describes the family as
“the natural and fundamental group unit of society”
and defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. It states that the family is
“entitled to protection by society and the State.”
Those elements are designed not to exclude people or create inequality, but to promote the unique benefit of marriage in our society: it secures family environments and provides the essential qualities of safety and reliability for children.
Worryingly, the Bill rarely mentions children or parenthood. It emphasises the decision to take part in a ceremony more than the commitment to a lifelong relationship or having children. It is as if those elements are of no consequence.
The Bill proposes to change the definition and therefore the meaning of marriage in the interests of equality. The words “equality” and “fairness” have been used extensively by supporters of the Bill. I have concerns about the development of the Bill on those terms. The equality agenda has been narrowly limited to dogmatic principles of uniformity. Such language makes open debate and disagreement about the Bill look like prejudice.
The Bill promotes the erroneous notion that “uniformity” is a good definition of “equality”. Men and women do not have to be the same in order to be equal. Having the same experience does not make people more equal. We should be promoting equality, not uniformity, and be able to celebrate difference.
For a Bill to be driven by the word “equality” and to then promote inequality seems to demonstrate a spectacular failure. An example of that is the fact that a civil partnership is available only to same-sex couples. This is not a Bill that has equality at its heart. In honesty, it is a Bill that dilutes the meaning of marriage.
Holding a traditional view of marriage should not be seen as discriminatory. Unfortunately, the Bill has promoted that notion. It has not created tolerance, but has highlighted division. The Government cannot guarantee protection for Churches or individuals with a traditional view because they cannot predict or control what happens in the courts. What has happened to Catholic adoption agencies is a good example of that.
Moreover, the Bill no longer promotes exclusiveness. It does not consider adultery to be a violation of commitment and so it undermines the nature of marriage and the way in which marriage promotes predictable, long-term family environments for children. That is a worrying move for a Government to make. Are the supporters of the Bill really saying that marriage is good for society, while at the same time reducing the substance and value of marriage?
The Bill has many pitfalls. Changing the definition of an institution that has served society well is hasty and destructive. I cannot support such a move. I urge the Minister and the House to read the ResPublica green paper on marriage and British civic life that was launched yesterday evening and to think again.