Speaking to the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Detta O’Cathain told peers that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples, claiming that children show “superior social, emotional and cognitive development” when raised by a married man and woman.

The Conservative peer, known for opposing civil partnerships and adoption rights for gay couples, suggested it had been “wishful thinking” to believe the same-sex marriage bill had been dropped when it was not mentioned in the Queen’s speech.

She said the government must be focused on the economy, and criticised the same-sex marriage bill from diverting political attention away from the country’s finances.

Baroness O’Cathain’s speech on same-sex marriage in full:-

I am convinced that the state of the economy is such that, as I said, every section of the [Queen's] gracious Speech can be measured against it.

Sadly, at a time when we face so many different and troubling challenges, the Government have decided to launch an astonishing attack on our tried and tested values by redefining marriage. Those of us who have been following the process in the other place knew perfectly well that the legislation was going to come here. It was perhaps wishful thinking that led so many people and sections of the population to believe that, because the Bill was not mentioned yesterday morning, it was not going to happen—mind you, that was put right within four hours.

Marriage is at the heart of our way of life, our communities and our country. The union of the two sexes, uniting men and women to each other and to their children, provides the foundation for human flourishing. We have heard today in this House a discussion about childcare and children not flourishing when they get to school because they have not had proper childcare. It is within the bounds of marriage that this happens.

Equality is put forward as the basic reason for this action by the Government, but very little more equality is needed. I think that we are talking more about equality in the name: some people want to say that they are married rather than suggesting that there is anything wrong with marriage at the moment or that marriage has equivalence with same-sex couples being together.

As everyone will remember, we had many discussions on the Civil Partnership Act. I remember clearly the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, agreeing that the Civil Partnership Act had caused more discrimination in another area. It is like pushing down one bit only for it to come up somewhere else. We were discussing the case of sisters—anyone who was there at the time will remember the injustice being done to them; your Lordships can look it up in Hansard. The noble and learned Baroness emphasised at the government Dispatch Box, “It is not for this Bill. I agree that it is discrimination, but it is not for this Bill at this time”. We accepted that, but when is it going to be tackled because, again, sisters are left out of it?

The evidence from social science is now emphatic that children do best when raised by their married mother and father. I mention just one example: a paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies observes that, even by the age of three, there are “significant differences” in outcomes between children born to married parents and those born outside marriage. Children born to married parents showed superior social, emotional and cognitive development. There are many other studies which provide powerful evidence of the positive benefits of marriage. Should we throw this up in the air?

Marriage will continue to be the bedrock of society only if it remains the legal union of one man and one woman. The current plans seek to change the meaning of marriage. Such a complete rewriting of a fundamental social institution can have only serious and some unpredictable consequences. Many people question whether the Government have the moral authority to attempt this redefinition. Most people in this country object to its imposition over their heads; they want marriage to remain as it is.

It greatly saddens me that my party is pursuing such a radical and aggressive social agenda and in such an undemocratic fashion—and I repeat, “undemocratic”. I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Fowler, with whom we have jostled many times on these issues. I say that there is no mandate to make this change since the idea is not in our manifesto—nor indeed is it in those of the other parties; my noble friend says that that does not really matter and that, after all, the dock labour scheme changes were not in the manifesto. Well, I consider that the dock labour scheme, which was wonderful and achieved a lot, is nothing like as important as the fundamental rocking of the state of social cohesion in this country.

The proposal to redefine marriage is unpopular and wholly unnecessary. I was very struck by my noble friend’s argument that the only power in this country lies with the elected representatives. It is a cogent case which I accept, but if there are elected representatives, what are they elected for? They are elected to listen to their constituents and to represent those thoughts—if they do not show them the error of their ways—in the national Parliament. It seems to me that in this case the representatives have all the power because, as my noble friend says, the only people with power in the country are the MPs. However, they do not have any responsibility, because they do not seem to be taking any responsibility to listen to their constituents—certainly not on this matter.

Following an intervention by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who asked if the timetable Motion imposed to speed up the process of the same-sex marriage bill affected the sovereignty of the House of Commons, Baroness O’Cathain concluded:-

What is likely to be the reaction of those who have been made summarily redundant and have to rely on food banks to tide them over until they can access benefits, of those thousands of young people whom I have already described, who are living in a state of deep concern, and of pensioners holding steadfastly to values who are suffering from receiving no interest on their savings and the rising costs of energy, when they witness the Government pushing ahead on a Bill that does not address any of those areas? I will tell you what they are probably thinking: have the Government lost their reason? They must have done so to justify the emphasis on redefining marriage while all else is in an unstable and worrying state.

I believe that it is a deeply flawed Bill and a deeply concerning attack on the values of great swathes of the population. Where is the pressure coming from? Are the Government taking any notice of the widespread antipathy to the redefinition of marriage? It is a wrong Bill, and it beggars belief that the Government have wantonly decided to push it through at any time, let alone when we are in such a parlous state.

Marriage must be supported and valued, not dismantled. For the sake of the future of marriage in this country, I urge the Government to admit graciously that this has been a great mistake and drop the Bill.