Oral statement to Parliament

Statement on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill: third reading

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Statement by Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport & Minister for Women and Equalities, 21 May 2013

The Rt Hon Maria Miller

Introduction

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a third time.

I have spent some time thinking about how I would address the House today and the words that I would say at the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

For many different reasons, this is a subject which draws strong opinions on both sides of the house. Just as the Civil Partnership Bill was discussed in pubs, homes, church halls and communities across the country, so has this Bill been.

Over the last few months I have listened very carefully to many different voices within Parliament and also outside of it.

Throughout the passage of the Bill and through this House we have had passionate but fair debates. But, in the best traditions of this House, we have maintained a respect for each other’s views. And we have had open, constructive discussions with all involved.

That open approach has meant that the Government has taken action on some areas to improve the Bill, and been able to take action in some areas to improve the Bill. I hope, to reassure members on some of the other issues of concern.

However, throughout, we have remained committed to the principle.

That people should not be excluded from marriage, simply because of who they love.

The institution of marriage underpins our society and over the years, as society has evolved, so has marriage. As such, it has remained our bedrock. The values of love, commitment and stability that all underpin marriage are the values upon which our society is built. I know that, despite other differences of opinion, there is no one in this House who would dispute that these are values that we should promote.

And if the values of marriage are ones that we want to build our society upon, they must be values available to all, underpinning an institution available to all couples.

Freedom of expression and religious protection

Our country is renowned the world over for its tolerance. We have a rich tapestry of faith, belief and culture - it is unique and it is part of what makes us British. It is because of these strong traditions that enabling same sex couples to marry will in no way undermine those who believe, for whatever reasons, for religious or philosophical reasons, that marriage should be between a man and a woman, they can continue to believe that. That is their right.

No religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to conduct same sex marriages if they choose not to.

Nor will they be forced to have same sex marriages conducted on their premises.

The quadruple lock which the Government has designed provides robust and effective protections.

The Government is also clear that this Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or outside work, from expressing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Teachers will still be able to express their personal beliefs about marriage and those of their faith, as long as this is done in a sensitive and appropriate way.

Employers will not be able to dismiss or discipline a person just because they say they do not believe in same sex marriage.

I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed around these issues – and the right for people to legitimately express their beliefs. That is why we have committed to do all we can clarify or strengthen the protections around freedom of expression.

I understand the importance the Honourable and Right Honourable place on this. Mr Speaker, I say to colleagues if we can - through this Bill strengthen marriage, protect it as a bedrock of our society in these changing times for the decades to come. If we provide protection for those religious organisations and those representatives who don’t want to marry same sex couples and re-assure those who disagree with same sex marriage that their right to express their belief is protected, then we should do so confidently and assertively.

And I am confident that we have the right balance in the construction of this Bill and we have listened carefully to the concerns that have been raised and have made changes to the Bill on the basis of those concerns.

I believe in the years ahead Mr Speaker that we will look back at this passage of the Bill as we now look back at the introduction of Civil Partnerships. And we will be in no doubt that equal marriage is right and we will be proud we made it happen.

Civil Partnerships

And in terms of the debate we’ve had in the last two days – it is important that we have gone through in detail very difficult and challenging issues. Yesterday we talked about Civil Partnerships and I believe equal marriage will correct something that is fundamentally unfair. It removes a barrier that prevents a whole group of people from access to an institution that underpins our society.

Civil partnerships were created to give same sex couples equivalent legal rights to those of marriage at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage.

Although I am clear that taking a decision on the future of civil partnerships now would not be an irresponsible thing to do, I have listened to the concerns that members and have expressed in this area.

As such, we have agreed to undertake an immediate review of Civil Partnerships. I think that will be important way of ensuring it’s clear on how that particular aspect of legal recognition of relationships is taken forward. Today, we’ve had further discussions as the Bill progress through the House. Members have drawn on the issue of humanist marriage.

Humanists

As the bill has progressed through the house, members have drawn other issues into the bill and one of those is humanist ceremonies - an issue which we debated earlier today.

The system of marriage in England and Wales is based on a system of premises and not, as in Scotland, celebrants.

A change of this nature that was suggested by the amendments today would, as the Attorney General said would be a fundamental change to the current structure of marriage. And, as has happened in Scotland it would also open to the door to a range of other belief organisations being able to conduct marriages. Such discussions are a matter for Scotland – this is a devolved matter but if we are to discuss those things – Members should be aware that the amendments put forward could not preclude the opening up of other belief organisations other than humanist to be able to conduct marriage as discussed today. The amendments would have given preferential treatment to one particular belief group and would have conflicted the Bill with the Convention of Human Rights. And we thank the Honourable Lady for taking the decision not to press that amendment and I welcome the decision.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker I accept that for some colleagues that their belief means that their principle on this issue is a barrier to supporting this change. But to other colleagues – I say now is the time.

Let us not be side tracked or distracted.

Let is not expand the remit of the Bill from its original intention.

Let us make equal marriage possible because it is the right thing to do.

And let us move on.

I am pleased to commend this Bill to the House.

[Ends]

Published 21 May 2013