Gay marriage bill: Minister urges support for same-sex marriage

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Equalities Minister Maria Miller has defended government plans to legalise gay marriage insisting it will make the UK a "fairer place to live".

She said all couples who enter into a lifelong commitment should be able to call it marriage.

Mrs Miller was speaking in the Commons on 5 February 2013 as she opened the second reading debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats back the move but it has divided the Conservative Party. David Cameron has given his MPs a free vote on the issue.

The bill would allow same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, where a religious institution had formally consented.

The Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages.

Mrs Miller said the bill would protect religious freedoms whilst ensuring fairness for same-sex couples.

Legal challenge

Labour reiterated its support for the plans, arguing that the case for same-sex marriage was "powerful".

Yvette Cooper, Mrs Miller's opposite number, said civil partnerships had been a "hugely important" step forward, adding that it was time to "introduce equal marriage across the country".

MPs opposed to the plans feared that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry would redefine the concept of marriage.

Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for Thanet North, said it was "Orwellian" for any government to rewrite the definition of marriage. People of faith, he said, "will find that faith being trampled on, and that to us is intolerable".

The DUP's Ian Paisley said that where same-sex marriages had been introduced in other countries, the number of heterosexual marriages had declined.

Meanwhile, Mid Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries claimed gay marriages would not require faithfulness because the legal definition of adultery involves intercourse between a man and a woman.

Cheryl Gillan, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, said she believed the government had undermined the meaning of civil partnerships by bringing forward the proposals.

Others MPs expressed worries that churches would be forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies despite the assurances of a "quadruple lock" of legal protections.

Conservative Sir Tony Baldry, the Church of England's representative in the Commons, said: "There is no way in which any of us can know just how robust these protections will be until they are tested in the courts."

He said the bill would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a women", and for that reason he could not support it.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dems' deputy leader, called for Mrs Miller to be amenable to re-writing the bill to "give us a much better balance and be able to reassure many more people" concerned about its effect on religions.

'Equal treatment'

Liberal Democrat Steve Gilbert, an openly gay MP, told the House that by backing the bill, Parliament could send a signal that it "values everyone equally".

He argued that marriage should not be an "exclusive institution" for heterosexual couples.

Labour MP Toby Perkins also signalled his support for same-sex marriage, revealing to the Commons that his mother was gay.

"I know how difficult it was for me as a young man growing up in Sheffield to think my friends might discover that," he said.

Among the Conservative MPs to support the plans were Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert, and Mike Freer, who is himself in a civil partnership.

Mr Freer condemned his colleagues for saying he should not have the same rights as they do to marry, arguing that it was not a matter of "special treatment" but "equal treatment".

Labour MP Robert Flello was the first in his party to say he would vote against the bill, arguing that it "creates inequality", whilst his party colleague Michael McCann warned it could "open up a can of worms of Olympian magnitude".

Conservative Sir Gerald Howarth said there was no mandate for such a "massive social and cultural change" as it was not in the party's manifesto and David Cameron had previously said he had "no plans" to change the law.

You can watch part two of the debate here.

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