Baroness Thornton, Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords writes for PinkNews.co.uk on why she is confident that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will survive attempts to defeat it by opponents in the Upper House.
Those in the national media who insist on telling us that the same-sex marriage bill is due for trouble in the Lords are either engaged in one of three things: wishful thinking, whistling in the dark or tilting at windmills. Some in fact are probably doing all three, with their fingers and toes crossed for good measure. The reality however, will be a wake-up call for their assumptions about peers’ attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships.
Yes, some opposition speeches will be vociferous, and yes some will be a little bizarre. But we also know the votes to support this bill are there, in good numbers.
After last month’s resounding endorsement of the bill by the Commons, today sees the action start properly in the Lords, with a two-day second reading debate that will involve more than 90 speeches. At its climax, tomorrow evening, there will be a vote on a motion aimed at killing off the bill, tabled by Lord Dear. Having ignored warnings from Labour peers and others about the risks of allowing this to take place in the early hours, the government’s business managers finally saw sense last week to help ensure the vote takes place in a more reasonably timed slot.
So, why the confidence that we will defeat this ‘fatal’ motion?
Well, for some time now, I’ve been greatly encouraged by the groups of backbench peers who passionately support the bill organising themselves so well across the House, to win the arguments as well as crucial votes. As well as a brilliantly organised operation among Labour Lords – led by Waheed Alli – the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and crossbench groups all have their cadres, working hard to keep their colleagues informed and ready for the challenge ahead.
While same-sex marriage may be the final piece of the legislative jigsaw (completing the extensive work of the last Labour government), the journey towards equality will not end with this bill. Along with many other parliamentarians in our party, I want to continue pushing back boundaries for the LGBT community.
The available evidence suggests LGBT people are at higher risk than heterosexuals of suicidal feelings, self-harm, drug or alcohol misuse and mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. This is, quite simply, unacceptable.
95% of secondary school teachers have reported hearing anti-gay language in their school. Nine in ten young people have been the victim of homophobic bullying, regardless of their sexual orientation. This is a huge worry and it is high-time that we shone a light on this serious problem.
Of course, the passage of this bill will be a key tool in driving attitudinal change. Not just ensuring legal equality in the eyes of the state, but encouraging society to celebrate the identity, the relationships, the commitment and the love that LGBT people share. Anything less than treating all people and communities as equals risks adding fuel to underlying issues, like the bullying that often leads to low self-esteem amongst too many of our young people.
This must be our next focus. This is where the new frontier for LGBT equality lies. And we must approach it with the same determination and drive as each of the challenges that have come before.
Baroness Thornton is Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords
Follow her on Twitter @GlenysThornton