A member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet, Lord (Patrick) Jenkin of Roding, told the House of Lords debate on equal marriage that he was taught by his renowned scientist grandfather Frewin Jenkin, that condemning a homosexual is the same as condemning someone for having red hair.

After reflecting on the many emails and letters that he had received from people supporting changing the law, Lord Jenkin said:-

My own starting point is something that I learnt many years ago as an undergraduate faced with what was, for me, a new involvement with people who were not heterosexual. I asked my grandfather, who was an extremely wise lecturer at the Edinburgh medical school, all about it. He said, “My dear boy, it is as foolish to condemn those who have homosexual proclivities as it is to condemn them for having red hair”. I have lived with that all my life and I have always opposed discrimination against homosexuals.

In the exchanges I have had through e-mail and other communications, I have identified three clear lines of argument against the Bill. The first I can deal with very briefly. There have been references to homophobia: I am afraid that some of the messages I have received actually reek of homophobia. I was reminded of some of the arguments advanced when Parliament abolished the criminal liability for homosexual conduct between consenting adults. There were those same dreadful arguments, deeply shaming, and I am very sorry that they still exist.

The second argument is one that has been referred to several times in this debate so far. The question is: does the Bill redefine marriage? It was put to me by one correspondent that:

“The Government’s plans will redefine the marriages of the 24 million married people without their consent”.

Other people have referred to their anniversaries. Last year, my wife and I celebrated our diamond wedding, and I have to say that it has been a marriage with mutual comfort and support. Is this Bill going to redefine that marriage? I cannot see how that could possibly happen. I was grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for confirming that nothing in this Bill will redefine our marriage or indeed those of the other 24 million married people in this country. One has to regard that argument as really quite misconceived. As others have said, it is not irrelevant that there is a great deal more support for the Bill among young people who are facing marriage, are about to get married or hope to get married than there is among the population generally. They do not see it like that. One has only to think of the possibility of the following happening. A young man poses the question to his intended, “Will you marry me?” and she replies, “Oh no. This Bill has made it all totally different. It’s for gays and lesbians—I can’t possibly marry you”. That is pure fantasy and I do not think we should pay too much attention to it.

The other argument that I have been rather more impressed by, and which again has been mentioned, is the question of the potential liability and difficulties for people, particularly in the public service, who find themselves, in a sense, implementing the provisions of the Bill in one way or another. A number of people, including some of those who have expressed support for the Bill, have voiced these concerns to me, and that is something that this House will need to look at quite carefully. I was very much comforted by the assurance given to us by my noble friend on the Front Bench that Ministers are considering what more might be done to allay those anxieties. I regard that as very important.

Finally, I return to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I hope that he will not feel it is unfair if I call him my “old friend”, as indeed he is. I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship. As a practising Christian, perhaps I may make the point to the Bishops’ Benches, including to the most reverend Primate, that there is every reason why, in time, the Anglican Church should come to accept that, although I recognise that it may take some time. The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.