Equal Marriage

The Government's announcement that it will proceed with allowing same-sex marriages has been the subject of much debate this week.

I believe that marriage is an important institution that should be cherished and promoted.  When two people love each other and are willing to commit publicly to a lifelong relationship, society is enriched and strengthened.  

Civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to gay couples.  Entering into my own civil partnership was the most important thing that I've ever done.  But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment.

Times have moved on, and most members of the public have come to believe that marriage should now be open to all, regardless of sexuality.  This is confirmed by almost every opinion poll.  The latest, conducted by MORI this week, found that three quarters of voters support equal marriage.

The polls also show that a majority of people of faith take the same view.  I think that Parliament will, too, when this issue is voted on next year.  The Prime Minister is far from alone in backing this measure: this week senior figures including John Major and Boris Johnson agreed with him.

What I said to the House of Commons, however, was that "just as this measure is about safeguarding the rights of one minority, it is important jealously to guard the rights of another - those who choose in conscience not to agree and those Churches that do not wish to conduct such ceremonies."

I feel very strongly that religious freedom must be protected. This means that religious communities should be allowed to conduct same-sex marriages if they choose, as for instance the Quakers would like, but equally none should be compelled to do so.

The Government announced the strongest legal safeguards for religious organisations.  The Church of England, for example, will be protected by a quadruple lock that will in fact make their performing same-sex marriages illegal.

I must vote for what I believe is right.  I appreciate, however, that some people take a different view, including many who are not homophobic but have a profound religious conviction about the nature of marriage.

I hope that they will be reassured by the safeguards for the Church that have been announced.  And I also hope that this debate will be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. 

Christopher N Howarth