Ahead of next week’s House of Lords debate, Equalities Minister Helen Grant writes exclusively for PinkNews.co.uk on why the government remains committed to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
This week saw the first marriage ceremony take place in France between two men, Vincent Austin and Bruno Boileau. We should all wish them well as they start married life together.
Over the past months here in the UK, much has been said and written about “quadruple locks” and freedom of religious expression when it comes to equal marriage. But let’s just take a step back for a moment, and ask ourselves some more basic questions.
Who will this law affect, other than two people wanting to commit to spending their lives together? Is fidelity something that should be discouraged? Will this legislation in any way diminish other people’s marriages – or my own? And is it anybody’s business to arbitrate over other people’s living arrangements?
Of course not. Marriage embodies the principles of love, loyalty and commitment. These are all vital components of a strong society. Marriage brings stability, it binds us together and it makes our families stronger. So before we get carried away, let’s focus on the real issue here: two people wanting to spend their lives together. And what’s wrong with that?
It’s those principles that we are championing through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which continues its journey through Parliament next week. The government remains committed to this bill becoming law because the proposition we are arguing for is so straightforward. Marriage is a wonderful institution with enormous value – so why should it be denied to anyone?
Over the last few months others have raised concerns that our plans will prevent people of faith who work in schools, charities and other public bodies from speaking freely about their beliefs on the meaning of marriage. They have even gone as far to say it could lead to those who believe in the traditional meaning of marriage to be excluded from jobs like teaching.
Not true. We have always been absolutely clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom in this country, and one that we will protect. No individual from the teaching profession or elsewhere will be required to promote or endorse views about same-sex marriage which go against their conscience. But it is an entirely different matter to act in an offensive or discriminatory way because of someone’s sexual orientation, and the two issues should not be confused.
What’s more we will oppose any attempt to undermine the long-held freedom that religions have in this country to preach, teach and practice their beliefs about marriage.
Among the issues raised in Parliament was also the future of civil partnerships. These were designed for a very specific purpose – to give same sex couples access to legal rights at a time when society wasn’t ready to offer them access to marriage. So given that time has moved on, the government is proposing to look again at civil partnerships in the light of our plans to introduce equal marriage.
Equal marriage is about the fundamental values and principles which bind us together as a society. I remain of the view that far from being a radical departure, equal marriage is simply one more in a long line of reforms which have strengthened marriage, ensuring it remains as relevant to our society as it ever was.
Helen Grant is the Conservative MP for Maidstone & The Weald. She is also Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities.