Baroness Liz Barker of the Liberal Democrats writes for PinkNews.co.uk on the need to lobby members of the House of Lords ahead of next week’s vote of the same-sex marriage bill in the Upper House.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has been approved overwhelmingly by the House of Commons but its parliamentary journey is not yet complete. On 3 June, the House of Lords will debate the equal marriage legislation for the first time.
Whilst the House of Lords has passed progressive legislation, such as the Civil Partnership Act, this legislation faces opposition in the Lords. Some peers have already made clear they want the bill thrown out and Lord Dear has tabled a motion to stop it in its tracks.
In the Lords, there are no time limits on debates and every stage is taken on the floor of the House. That means everyone can pile in at every opportunity allowing opponents to try and filibuster or use other tactics to delay the bill’s passage. The Lord Speaker doesn’t direct the debate in the way the House of Commons Speaker does, we regulate the debate ourselves by common consent. While abuse of the rules is frowned upon, it’s difficult to stop. So it will be interesting to see how opponents of equal marriage will conduct their arguments.
In the Lords neither the government nor the opposition have a majority. Members of the House fall into different categories, quite apart from political beliefs. Firstly, there are the Lords Spiritual: 25 Church of England Bishops. Then among the Lords Temporal there are 92 hereditary peers and the rest are Life peers, who have been appointed by a political party or the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Apart from the Bishops, peers generally fall into different political groups like Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, or the Crossbenches. Crossbenchers are independent, and their support can determine which way a vote goes.
A majority of Liberal Democrats and Labour support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. However, Conservative peers are much more split than their Commons colleagues. Some, such as Baroness O’Cathain, have voted against every bill which proposed equality for gay people. Others, such as Lord Tebbit equate gay relationships to those between blood relatives.
So it will fall to the Liberal Democrat peers, working with sympathetic Conservatives such as Lord Fowler, to lead the way for the coalition government on this. You can help get this important legislation passed, by urging peers like the Crossbenchers to attend the debates and support equality, and by using the new Lobby a Lord website.
There are peers who haven’t made up their mind. The Coalition for Marriage is targeting them with misinformation. Members of the House of Lords need to understand how this legislation will make life better, not just for gay people and their families, but for everyone. So tell them how equal marriage affects you and your family.
My colleagues and I will do our best and with your support, we can build a fairer society.