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From lesbian queens to stories of love: Lords gay marriage debate

Britain’s House of Lords debate same-sex marriage equality with lesbian and gay peers taking a leading part in the debate
Baroness Royall has been steering the gay marriage bill through the Lords for the Labour party..
Photo by 38 Degrees.

Gay people should be denied marriage because it would lead to four-way weddings and for the same reason blind people can’t see, Britain’s House of Lords has heard.

The upper chamber of the British parliament had been debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales today (3 June) ahead of a crucial, although not final, vote tomorrow.

Peers have also heard, from supporters of gay marriage, the bill will deliver equality, improve society and send a message of support to LGBT people at home and abroad.

The claim it would damage existing or new heterosexual marriages was also jokingly put down.

Most of the arguments have fallen into three categories.

Opponents have questioned the process behind the bill, the right of the UK government to introduce it and the level of democratic support for it.

Supporters of the bill have responded the elected House of Commons voted in favor and the polls show the majority of the public, particularly young people, back it.

The other major issue is whether marriage should be extended to gay and lesbian couples with opponents saying marriage is only for opposite-sex partners so they can have children.

Again the bill’s backers have told stories of loving gay and lesbian couples and called for them to be granted equal rights and respect.

And there has been some talk of the rights of teachers and marriage registrars who disagree with gay marriage to be protected.

Lord Norman Tebbit, a former member of the Conservative cabinet under the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a leading opponent of gay marriage argued the law already equal.

He said: ‘But the present law of marriage does not discriminate against homosexuals. The rights of a homosexual man are identical to mine. Subject to the laws on incest and bigamy, we are each free to marry a woman. Neither he nor I may marry another man.’

He therefore argued polygamy was equally unfair saying ‘on the basis of the arguments that have been put forward in favor of this bill, towards making lawful the marriage of one man with two or more women, or a woman with more than one man’.

But he was also concerned about lesbian queens one day reigning over the country.

He said: ‘There is, I believe, no bar to a lesbian succeeding to the throne. It may happen. It probably will, at some stage. What, then, if she marries and her partner bears a child by an anonymous sperm donor? Is that child the heir to the throne? If the Queen herself subsequently bore a child by an anonymous donor, which child then, if either, would inherit the throne?’

Baroness Jill Knight, a Conservative, said gays couldn’t marry for the same reason blind people couldn’t see, and no law could change that.

She said: ‘Of course, homosexuals are often very delightful, artistic and loving people. No one doubts that for one single moment. However, marriage is not about just love. It is about a man and a woman, themselves created to produce children, producing children.

‘A man can no more bear a child than a woman can produce sperm. No law on earth can change that. This is not a homophobic view. It may be sad, it may be unequal, but it is true.

‘This bill is either trying to pretend that it can change men into women, or vice versa, or telling us that children do not need a father and a mother and that a secure framework for children to be brought up in is not really important any more.’

While Retired Royal Air Force officer Lord David Craig warned the next thing would be threesome and foursome couples demanding marriage.

He argued: ‘How soon might we see an individual claiming his human rights are being denied because being married to a man does not allow him the same conjugal rights as if he were married to a woman?

‘Therefore, he might argue, why should he not be allowed to be married both to another man and also – not alternatively – to a woman? It might not be a much greater step beyond that for individuals to argue that a threesome or foursome union would more suit their shared and mutual feelings of love and commitment. Could that, too, be called a marriage?’

Lord Donald Anderson of Swansea, a Labour peer, said the bill ‘seeks to make equal that which is not equal’.

He said: ‘The relationship between a man and a woman is unique. Same-sex relationships are different. Perhaps we should seek to find another name for them, if same-sex couples seek dignity.’

And Conservative Baroness Julia Cumberlege also argued LGBT people should forget about marriage and come up with another word to cover their relationships.

She even suggested peers negotiate with gay organizations to invent something.

She said: ‘I urge these people to be bold, to be confident and eschew the institutions of others, to build their own and be themselves. It might be sensible to negotiate with LGBT organizations to see if a solution can be found.’

And on the subject of words Christian Lord Robert Edmiston argued: ‘If this Bill were to pass, in due course we would end up having to create a new vocabulary for words like “father”, “mother”, “husband” and “wife”. This has already been flagged in other countries.’

While Raymond Jolliffe, Lord Hylton, said: ‘I regret very much that the fine old English and French word gay has been appropriated by a small but very vocal minority.

‘Now under the pretext of equality the government is proposing to change the meaning of the word marriage.’

And the Marquess of Lothian, Michael Ancram, predicted another linguistic problem would arise.

He said it would lead to two new terms ‘statutory gay marriage on the one hand and what I believe will become known as real or traditional marriage on the other’.

But on the other side Baroness Janet Royall of Blaisdon, the leader of the Labour party in the House of Lords, said a recent heterosexual wedding had illustrated the importance of the bill to her as a parent.

‘Last week, I thought a lot about marriage: not just because of the bill, but because I was choosing a wedding dress with my daughter, Charlie.

‘We talked about marriage, which she described as an important ritual that would enable her to make a commitment to the man she loves in front of family, friends and our community.

‘If Charlie wanted to marry Katherine instead of Kane, would I feel any different? No, I would not, and I would want other parents to have the same joy as I in celebrating the marriage of their children, whether they love people of the same or the opposite sex.’

Openly lesbian Liberal Democrat Baroness Elizabeth Barker talked about her own relationship.

She told the peers: ‘Many years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet someone. She and I have loved each other ever since – that is, apart from the occasional spectacular argument, usually about driving or DIY.’

She went on to argue that lesbian and gay marriage would be good for society and for business – a case later made by another openly-gay peer, Lord John Browne, the former boss of petrochemical giant BP.

She said: ‘What we are doing today does not undermine any existing or future marriage. It extends the status of marriage to gay men and lesbians who want to make a public commitment in the presence of their families and friends, and sometimes their co-religionists.

‘It reflects the wishes of those people who today do not want just to tolerate lesbians and gay men; they want to celebrate and support them as people in their own right.’

Barker also challenged arguments it would be unfair to give same-sex couples marriage rights when they aren’t available, for example, to two sisters living together.

She said: ‘If enabling gay marriage will be unfair to another relationship, such as that of two sisters, then existing marriage laws are unfair.’

Lord Norman Fowler said voting for the bill ‘will show decisively how this country has changed, and the value we place on gay and lesbian people in our society’.

This he hoped would send a message to other countries, including some of the worst places to be LGBT in the world, including Uganda.

And he added: ‘At home, I believe it will show the gay and lesbian community our belief in equality and, above all, their right to expect what we all expect; nothing more, but certainly nothing less. For some of us, that is a fundamental moral issue.’

Baroness Sal Brinton, a Liberal Democrat, highlighted the benefits to transgender people of the bill.

Until now those who transition while in a marriage are forced to divorce, even if their partner doesn’t want to, and have a civil partnership instead.

She said this was a ‘dreadful wrong’ saying: ‘It has caused immense distress to those already facing the turmoil of major changes in their lives. I am delighted that these proposals now accept that changed gender status should not imperil an existing marriage.’

Lord David Pannick, a leading UK lawyer, said that if you value marriage, you should offer it equally.

He addressed Geoffrey Dear who is trying to block his fellow Lords from discussing the bill further.

He said: ‘Many people outside will wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and his supporters, all of whom rightly value the institution of marriage, seek to deny the same happiness, fulfilment and status to other people simply by reference to their sexual orientation.

‘I am a paid-up member of the married club and glad to be so. It is precisely because of the value of marriage that it should not be denied to same-sex couples.

‘There is no question of the bill being introduced on a whim, as the noble Lord suggested. It is being introduced on a fundamental question of principle to address a wrong that needs to be addressed.’

Conservative Lord Patrick Jenkin of Roding said some of the messages he had been sent by opponents of the bill ‘actually reek of homophobia’.

And he went on to dismiss the argument that same-sex marriage undermines existing marriages.

He said: ‘It is not irrelevant that there is a great deal more support for the bill among young people who are facing marriage, are about to get married or hope to get married than there is among the population generally.

‘One has only to think of the possibility of the following happening. A young man poses the question to his intended, “Will you marry me?” and she replies, “Oh no. This bill has made it all totally different. It’s for gays and lesbians – I can’t possibly marry you”.

‘That is pure fantasy and I do not think we should pay too much attention to it.’

Openly gay Labour peer Lord Chris Smith appealed to religious opponents of gay and lesbian marriage.

He said: ‘I am also a Christian and I believe in a loving, accepting, generous God who wants to include people, not reject them. I was in a civil partnership and I know that civil partnership confers nearly all the shared rights and responsibilities that marriage does, but it is not the same.

‘It is not equality: it does not carry the same significance or symbolism and it still labels lesbian and gay relationships as somehow just a little second-class.

‘To vote against the bill is, effectively, to say that two people, two members of our human family, cannot be allowed the full flowering of the expression of their love for each other. I ask those arguing against the bill to think for just a moment about the hurtfulness of what they are doing by saying that.’

Lord Guy Black, publisher of the Telegraph newspaper, talked about his love for his partner Mark Bolland.

In a speech many other peers described as ‘moving’ he said: ‘I am in a civil partnership with somebody with whom I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century. I love him very much and nothing would give me greater pride than to marry him.

‘I assure noble lords that in the main I really am exactly the same as them, except that I happen to love a man. Why should I be barred from taking part in a special institution that all the rest of you can enjoy?’

But Black said he was also supporting the bill for others too.

He said ‘The reason that young people can mostly live openly gay lives today is because legislation from this House and the House of Commons led opinion.

‘Young gay people at school or university, battling with their consciences as well as, still too often, prejudice, will look to parliament and see that in the eyes of the UK’s lawmakers, they are treated with respect, dignity and equality. As the Prime Minister rightly put it, they will stand taller as a result of our actions.’

The debate was later adjourned and will continue tomorrow (4 June).

If the vote goes in favor of marriage equality tomorrow, the bill will then go to committee and report stage where peers will analyze it in more detail.

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