Glenys Thornton on the battles and (repeated) arguments set to colour the Report stage debates on Same Sex Marriage
Over the next few days, with Jan Royall, Waheed Alli and other supporters of equal marriage, I will go into battle in the next step towards getting the Same Sex Marriage Bill onto the statute book. It is Report Stage and we will have votes, definitely a couple and perhaps a small bucket full. The overwhelming majorities in favour of the legislation in both the Commons and Lords have not deterred its opponents from bringing forward the same old amendments to stop marriage between opposite sex and same sex couples taking place on the same legal basis.
I can predict that almost every speech from those who seek to undermine this Bill will mention that the noble Lord or Lady is "not anti-gay" or is content for same sex marriage to happen as long as it has a different name from their "traditional" marriage. But in reality, what they will be arguing for is that discrimination and inequality for same sex couples should be perpetuated.
Opponents of the Bill should perhaps ask themselves what they fear. And maybe at the same time ask their grandchildren why they do not feel that same sex marriage is a huge threat to society. Because when I discussed this Bill with younger members of my family and their friends they really don’t get what all the fuss is about.
So this week in the Lords, over two long sessions (on Monday and Wednesday), we will hear the same arguments we heard at Second Reading and during the Committee stage. The cast has slightly changed in that the main attack is now led by Lord Mackay of Clashfern rather than Lord Dear. Charming, clever and erudite as he might be, Lord Mackay does have form resisting equalities legislation for people of the same sex, and this is a continuation of that. He failed in 2010 during the passage of the Equalities Act, and we have to ensure he is equally unsuccessful again.
There are more amendments down for Report than there were at Committee – unusual and prompting the thought that this could be an attempt at filibuster. If so, this would be an unworthy tactic by opponents of the Bill, when the will of Parliament has been so clearly expressed. Futile as that route would turn out, we can predict long and sometimes repetitive debates (for which I apologise in advance to those planning on tuning in). And challenges on teachers, registrars and freedom of speech have one thing in common – they seek to undermine existing equalities legislation as well as that proposed in the Bill.
On a more upbeat note, progressive issues will also be discussed, including a major victory on Humanist marriages. The Minister, Baroness Stowell has taken on board the overwhelming arguments in favour of change expressed in Committee and will bring forward amendments on behalf of the government. I am pleased to put my name to these on behalf of Labour, and intend to put on record my thanks to the British Humanist Association as well as the many colleagues, including Lyndon Harrison, Doreen Massey, Gus McDonald and Molly Meacher, who have long fought this battle.
There is also an amendment to equalise Pension rights for same sex widows and widowers, about which the government have yet to bring forward a set of consistent figures. I suspect the House will have a great deal of sympathy, and unless some accommodation is reached, the matter could lead to parliamentary ping pong.
While there is tremendous support across the Lords for equal marriage, getting the Bill finally onto the statute book will take time and a lot of words. Co-operation however, between backbenchers from all sides and a general goodwill between the Frontbenches (on this legislation at least) will be the recipe for success.
Baroness Glenys Thornton is Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords
Published 7th July 2013