The following speech was made in today’s parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by the Democratic Unionist MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, who is a Baptist.
It is a great privilege to stand here today in the greatest seat of democracy in the world. I am honoured to be a part of this debate on the redefinition of marriage. The single biggest mailbag I have had in all my days as an MP, MLA and councillor has been on this issue. I listen to my constituents—not just one or two, but all of them. In this case, I listened to the 1,700 of my constituents who have contacted me to tell me clearly that they are opposed to any change and to the redefinition of marriage.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister walked into the House to great applause in relation to Europe. I was pleased as punch for him and what he is going to do with the referendum. He said he would be giving a commitment with all his heart and soul, and I am of the same mindset on this issue: with all my heart and with all my soul, I oppose the redefinition of marriage in this House and elsewhere.
More than 99% of my constituents who have contacted me have said that they do not want this. I have listened carefully to the argument that this is a matter of equal rights. That is not how I or my constituents view this matter. The introduction of civil partnerships, which enshrined legal and financial rights, ensured that people in civil partnerships had the same protection as a married couple. There is parity of rights here, so this is not a matter of equality of rights.
With great respect to the House and to everyone here, the sheer volume of those who are against this change cannot be ignored. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. That has not changed for thousands of years. My constituents tell me they see no reason to redefine marriage, and I agree. We do not need to push through a measure which so many people believe will affect their ability to live out their Christian faith, but which does not give rights or correct wrongdoing. There is much potential for harm. This not scaremongering; these are grounded and justified fears.
The proposed change in the law has the potential to bring inequality to anyone who disagrees with the redefinition of marriage, or who does not teach it, or who feels unable to promote or assist its promotion in their work. It will leave Churches vulnerable. On behalf of the Elim Church, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Brethren of the Church of Ireland or the Church of England, the Roman Catholics, the Methodists, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Orthodox Jews—all those faiths who do not want a redefinition of marriage—I ask the Government not to ignore them, but to listen to what they and a few of us here are saying.
The quadruple lock the Minister referred to makes worrying reading. There is no protection for public sector chaplains in the armed forces; NHS and university staff will be denied, for fear of losing their jobs, the freedom to express the opinion that marriage is between one man and one woman. Some 40,000 teachers have expressed the valid fear, backed up by legal opinion, that they will not be able to opt out of endorsing same-sex marriage and allow someone else to teach that aspect of the curriculum.
There is something horribly wrong about a teacher losing their job for seeking to bow out gracefully of teaching that section by allowing someone else to step in. It is also wrong that parents have no protection enabling them to remove their children from classes in which they will be taught something that is expressly against their beliefs. When did we become a country that enforces ideals on people to the detriment of their personal faith? I do not believe that we are such a country, and I urge everyone today to ensure that we do not become it.
What about council registrars who feel unable to follow the new definition because it is contrary to their faith? The Minister has claimed that the quadruple lock will ensure that Europe cannot change things. She and everyone else in this House knows that Europe decisions have been made that overturned legislation in this country. I have five examples, but I will give only one, because time is against me: Islington council sacked registrar Lillian Ladele for requesting an accommodation of her conscientious objection to same-sex civil partnership, and the European Court confirmed that a public authority could force employees to act against their beliefs on marriage and sack any who resist. That demonstrates that a quadruple lock and any other kind of lock will fall down when it comes to the European Court. Is there any other reason why the Minister believes that Europe will support us?
In December 2011, the Prime Minister stated that the UK is “a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so”.
Today, I urge the Government to put that statement into practice and show that we are not ashamed to live by the Christian principles of loving God, loving our neighbour and living by the word of God. Do not take away people’s right to do that and say it is for equality. It is not. Parity of rights is already secure. Instead, let people live their faith without fear of persecution, aided by this Government. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to oppose the Bill.