We now know that the Government will formally announce their same-sex marriage proposals tomorrow (Tuesday) but following a leak, and grumbles over the weekend, the Minister responsible for Equalities (and oddly Culture Secretary) Maria Miller was dragged to the House of Commons to respond to an emergency question on same-sex marriage in churches.
Miller first of all clarified that this was all apprently nothing new, stating that: ‘The Prime Minister did not announce anything new this weekend; he simply restated the Government’s position and, in particular, expressed a personal view regarding the possible role for churches in future—a view that he first expressed in July. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is an important matter that should be discussed first here in the House, and that is why we have brought forward our statement to tomorrow.’
It’s just that we all collectively missed it the first time around. The debate also show cased barely veiled homophobia from a number of Tory MPs. Here are some ‘highlights’:
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that approximately 500,000 people who responded to the Government’s consultation by saying no to redefining marriage have been excluded from the Government’s consultation and effectively denied a voice, although others—including those beyond the United Kingdom—have been included in that consultation? Is the consultation in danger of being seen as a sham that does not provide the Government with a mandate to redefine marriage?
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): With Christmas just around the corner, lots of people might be thinking of giving a dictionary as a present. Before they do so, and for the benefit of dictionary publishers, will the Minister say whether the Government have any plans to change the definition of any other words?
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): My right hon. Friend said that the views of people of faith should never be marginalised. Will she tell the House how she will square that with the 619,007 people who have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, which calls for no change in the definition of marriage?
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Government are so hellbent on upsetting so many thousands of our citizens who are in normal marriages, especially at this time?
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): The suggestion that the Government’s proposals need not necessarily impact on religious belief is nonsense. The definition of marriage is the joining together of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, and allowing same-sex marriages will therefore require a redefinition of the term. Such a redefinition would undermine one of the basic tenets of many religious institutions, so it definitely would impact on religious belief. That is not scaremongering; that is fact.
My personal favourite (meant sarcastically, but an interesting point):
Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Many Members have expressed the sentiment that marriage is at the centre of religious life—amen to all that—but have the Government considered introducing other forms of marriage, such as polygamy, and if not, when can minorities who believe in such a practice expect their own consultation?
And a nice teaser for tomorrow:
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am a Christian and I am against the redefinition of marriage, but that is for tomorrow. The urgent question today is why on earth the Government briefed in advance about a new policy and a change to the previous position. The Minister has condemned that herself in the past. Will she have a word with the Prime Minister and tell him off?
For me, a particualr fascianting exchange concerned Civil partnerships. A big question ahs been what will happen to them as a result fo these reforms. My hope has long been that Civil partnerships will stay on the statute book but be opened up to different-sex couples. Based on the following response from the Minister, it looks like such a measure won’t be in the proposed response (and the contineud existence of CPs looks uncertain):
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): As someone with a long-term personal investment in the institution of marriage, I can thoroughly recommend it to everyone who wants it. Nevertheless, will the Minister also introduce proposals for those who do not want the institution, such as heterosexual couples who want a civil partnership rather than a marriage? I have constituents who have raised this with me.
Maria Miller: I am sure that the question of civil partnership will be addressed as part of the consultation response, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that civil partnership was never put forward as a replacement for marriage, and I am not sure it is something we want to open up to more people.