Shadow Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Yvette Cooper made a speech urging MPs to vote in favour of a bill to allow equal marriage in England and Wales, just before it passed in the House of Commons with an overwhelming majority.
MPs voted 366 to 161 overwhelmingly in favour of passing the bill, giving it a majority of 205. It will now travel to the House of Lords for further scrutiny, debate and voting.
She began by saying she was “proud” of MPs on both sides of the House for being “on the right side of history”,
Noting differences between the major parties to do with amendments, such as an amendment to allow humanist weddings, which was withdrawn, Ms Cooper went on to commend members for the debate, and called the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill an “important Bill that I think will bring happiness to many people.”
Saying equal marriage legislation was the “right thing to do”, Ms Cooper went on to joke that, in joining the other fourteen countries which already allow equal marriage, MPs might jump up and sing in an ABBA, or Eurovision style – reciting the lyrics “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.”
Taking time to read out letter from constituents for and against the bill, Ms Cooper said: “Rarely is legislation so personal, and that the House of Commons rarely had “the chance strongly to reaffirm the equal respect we have for every human being, regardless of their sexuality, and the equal respect we have for their loving, long-term relationships.”
Continuing, Ms Cooper referred to some claims that equal marriage would “undermine” marriage as “ludicrous”, and asserted: “This Bill does not undermine the marriage of anybody in this House or across the country.” She then expressed hope that religious organisations, and those opposed to the bills had had their views considered “respectfully”.
She said: “This is about the joy that we can deliver for those who want to get married just as their parents did, the joy that we can make possible for the couple who want to get married just as their sister or brother did last year”.
Noting an example of one of her constituents who wrote to her regarding a reference she made at the Bill’s second reading, to the case of one of an elderly couple caring for the other who had dementia, when saying that the gender of the couples did not matter, she mentioned the “powerful… love, commitment and duty”, showed by such an act.
She ended by saying: “I thank all those who are supporting the Bill. Let us be loud and proud. Let us start the singing. Let us celebrate, not discriminate. Let us pass this Bill. Let us put aside the anger, and let us hear it for the joy.”
A transcript of Ms Cooper’s full speech is available to read below.
I am proud that the Commons has reached the Third Reading of this Bill, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House also feel proud to support it and to be on the right side of history. I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for introducing the Bill. I am proud, too, that Labour votes passed the Bill on Second Reading and will do so again this week. We are strongly committed to the Bill.
The Opposition have, of course, disagreed with the Government on some issues, including on the Bill’s handling of humanism, which we hope will be discussed further in the Lords. We also wanted early progress on opposite sex civil partnerships as an issue of equality before the law, but I hope that we have now agreed progress there. Nevertheless, the Minister will know that we have approached each of these issues, even when we have disagreed, in a considered way to ensure that the Bill can make progress, and I am glad that votes from Labour and across the House have ensured that no one now has any excuse to ditch or delay an important Bill that I think will bring happiness to many people.
I thank, too, all Members who, because it is the right thing to do, have championed the Bill even when they have faced pressure in their constituencies not to do so. I thank hon. Members who sat on the Committee and worked hard at every stage to get the Bill through. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston [Kate Green] and for Rhondda [Chris Bryant], who have done immense work on the Opposition Front Bench, and my hon. Friends who supported them in Committee. I think that they, and certainly the Government, will agree that nothing makes us more grateful for the normal presence of the Whips—I am glad they join us today—than being charged with taking through Bills that depend on free votes.
This is the right thing to do. This Parliament can now join Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay, France, which has just passed its own legislation, and New Zealand, whose MPs last month celebrated their gay marriage legislation in fabulous style by breaking into song. We can only wonder what would happen if the Minister and I leapt up and started leading a Eurovision-style chorus of “Congratulations” or perhaps ABBA-style—probably not “One Man, One Woman”, but certainly, “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.”
Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham Daniel Kawczynski then asked Ms Cooper to give way, and asks if the bill were not to pass, whether same-sex marriages of people from other countries would be recognised anyway.
Ms Cooper replies that he made an “important point”, saying that the UK should recognise such marriages, and “be proud to do so”. She went on to say : “We hope that other countries across the world will join us, including countries where there is still terrible homophobic discrimination, which we should be fighting against. I hope we can lead the way by championing this Bill. We should remind people why we are doing this. It is time to give same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples to get married. It is time for equality in marriage.”
Conservative MP Mike Freer then pointed out that “two more countries and six states in America have approved same-sex marriage. Is not the tide of history with us and not against us?”
Yvette Cooper replied: “The honourable Gentleman is right. I pay tribute to the work he has done to champion this legislation. I think we are on the right side of history by taking it forward. It is time to celebrate, not discriminate, when a couple decide they want to make a promise to stick together for as long as they both shall live.”
I have had many letters and e-mails since Second Reading; I want to share some briefly with the House. One man wrote to me describing the difficulties he had had being accepted by his family because of his sexuality. He said:
“’My partner of 14 years is neither recognised nor accepted. It is however fantastic to hear politicians…standing up for people like me, ensuring that we can become equals at least in the eyes of the state, if not in the eyes of our parents and our religions.”
Another wrote to me to say:
“I’m a 23 year old gay man…I’ve had people tell me all my life that I am less worthy, wrong and sinful because of my sexuality, and although I’ve been incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends throughout, it does grind you down. And it can hurt, really and truly hurt.”
He, too, described the importance of seeing politicians in this House
“so publicly and passionately support the rights of people like myself and many others to have a more equal standing in society is really one of the most empowering things that can be done—political leaders standing up for those whose voices so often get silenced. I truly feel it is an historic moment in Britain and all I can say is thank you.”
That is what this Bill is all about. Rarely is legislation so personal. Rarely does this House have the chance strongly to reaffirm the equal respect we have for every human being, regardless of their sexuality, and the equal respect we have for their loving, long-term relationships.
We have heard strong objections to the Bill in the course of these debates. In this House we show respect for each other’s views, even though we disagree with them. Some have been concerned about the impact of the Bill on their faith and some have objected to aspects of it on grounds of their faith. It is important for us to respect freedom of religion, and I believe that the Bill has done exactly that. I hope those Members will feel reassured that their concerns have been respected. Of course, no religious organisation or priest can be required to conduct same-sex marriage and there are multiple locks in the Bill to prevent that from happening.
It is also important to remember that many people with strong faith, of all faiths, strongly support this Bill. We should not see it as something that promotes a secular-faith divide, because it does not. I am pleased, too, that Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Judaism have said that they want to be able to celebrate same-sex marriages. I am pleased that they will be able to do so as a result of this Bill. I hope that other faiths will change their minds over time, because that is freedom of religion too.
We have heard other objections to the Bill in these debates. We have heard people claim that allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married will somehow undermine the marriage of heterosexual couples, but how will it? There are MPs in this House who want to get married who will be able to do so as a result of this Bill: excellent—I personally hope I get an invitation to the reception—but does that undermine my marriage? How could it—unless, of course, they want to marry the shadow Chancellor, which could pose a few challenges. This Bill does not undermine the marriage of anybody in this House or across the country. The idea that two brides tying the knot says anything about the relationship of their neighbours next door is simply ludicrous. Nor is it good enough to say that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman, because marriage has rightly changed before and it can do so again. That is not a definition; it is discrimination.
We have seen this subject become part of the internal debates within the Conservative party. To Conservative Members I would simply say that fighting over Europe is one thing—they are welcome to that—but I hope that they will stop fighting over this. I hope that they will join Members across the House in being proud of this Bill. I have heard many Conservative Members talk about the anger in their constituencies and the anger among their party members. I hope that they will now feel able to stop talking about the anger and to start talking about the joy. This is about the joy that we can deliver for those who want to get married just as their parents did, the joy that we can make possible for the couple who want to get married just as their sister or brother did last year, and the joy that we can provide by saying to couples across Britain, “We won’t discriminate against you on the ground of your sexuality. We respect, support and celebrate your relationship.”
Members might recall that I argued on Second Reading that marriage was about the joy and the sorrow, about the excitement and the tragedy, and about the romance of the wedding day as well as the deeper romance of growing old and grey together, even once the party has faded. I gave the example of an elderly couple, one of whom was caring for the other who had dementia. I described the love, commitment and duty that that showed, and said how powerful that was, whether it was between a man and a woman, two men or two women. In response to that, I received an e-mail from a man who wrote:
“I was particularly touched at your reference to a couple enduring dementia. This is precisely what my parents are now facing after 54 years of marriage. The example they have shown me over my lifetime and now that my mother suffers with the disease is precisely what marriage is all about. I try every day to live up to their example, as I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my partner whom I love very much. I expect in this day and age, and for generations to come, that we should be able to have our commitment to each other acknowledged in law in an equal way with our straight friends. Your argument is truly Christian in nature, entirely humanist and on the right side of history. My partner and I, our families, and our future children thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
I thank all those who are supporting the Bill. Let us be loud and proud. Let us start the singing. Let us celebrate, not discriminate. Let us pass this Bill. Let us put aside the anger, and let us hear it for the joy.