During the debate around equal marriage in the House of Lords, before peers voted in favour of the bill for England and Wales, Conservative Peer Baroness Jenkin gaven an impassioned speech saying she may not have voted for the bill in the past, but noted the importance of changing times, and changing attitudes.
The former Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Lord Dear, had tabled a “fatal” amendment to deny the bill its second reading.
During her speech, Baroness Anne Jenkin of Kennington, said “a successful marriage takes work”, and went on to question “if a couple love each other, why should the state stop them getting married unless there is a good reason?”
She continued: “Yes, it is controversial, but decriminalising homosexuality was controversial, as was equalising the age of consent.” Noting opposition to civil unions when they were passed, Baroness Jenkin went on to say that public opinion had changed one those issues, and that it would be the same for equal marriage.
She also quoted a Church of England vicar in saying: “I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and indeed that it will be a positive good, not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally.”
Admitting “I do not like change”, the Baroness went on to say she possibly might not have voted for the bill “10 or 15 years ago”, but said “times have changed, and I have changed.”
Commending Lord Fowler, Lady Noakes and Lord Jenkin, all for being consistently in favour of equality, Baroness Jenkin noted that attitudes could change and evolve, and emphasised the importance of that.
She concluded by saying: “My own sons have said that they are proud of me, their father, and indeed their grandfather, for supporting the Bill, and would have been ashamed had we voted against it. We need to recognise that for conservatism to work, we have to accept that the world changes.”
Baroness Jenkin’s father-in-law is Lord Jenkin, who spoke passionately in favour of the bill. Her husband, the MP Bernard Jenkin also supports equal marriage.
Baroness Jenkin’s full speech is available below.
My Lords, at this stage of such a very fine debate, with outstanding contributions and powerful arguments on both sides, finding something new to say is quite a challenge.
We have heard from a number of noble Lords with strong and long-standing marriages, including my noble kinsman, whose diamond wedding the rest of the Jenkin family were happy to celebrate last year. As a Conservative, with a mere silver wedding approaching, I strongly believe in marriage as a force for good and I lament its decline in our society. We know that married couples are twice as likely to stay together as those who cohabit. Now we have people who want to get married, to make a lifetime commitment, yet some of us are not sure whether we should allow that to happen. Let us be clear: marriage and the lifelong commitment it involves are far from easy, and a successful marriage takes work. We do not do enough to help floundering marriages and struggling relationships, such as strengthening them and rewarding people for doing the right thing. We should. But stopping gay people marrying is not part of that.
At the heart of this Bill is a straightforward proposition. If a couple love each other, why should the state stop them getting married unless there is a good reason? In this day and age, being gay is not a good reason—if indeed it ever was. Of course, for some religions and faiths, this goes beyond their beliefs. As a result, the Bill specifically protects the rights of those who do not agree and does not compel anyone to do anything. All religious organisations are free to choose whether to opt in or out. The Bill simply allows people to get married—a clear and simple objective, delivered in a way that promotes and protects religious freedom.
We have heard quotes from the correspondence we have all received. I would like to read a few remarks from an e-mail from a Church of England vicar, well known to me, which seem to get to the heart of the matter. He said: “I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and indeed that it will be a positive good, not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to place centrally in marriage the idea of a stable, loving relationship, rather than anything else. Rather than this being a dramatic change, it is actually a radical reform (in the proper sense of ‘radical’) recalling the institution to the heart of its real meaning”. Those are wise words and ones that I hope in due course his church and mine will come to accept.
The other main argument against the legislation is that it would undermine marriage. However, I have not heard a convincing explanation of how it would undermine marriage. Yes, it is controversial, but decriminalising homosexuality was controversial, as was equalising the age of consent. It was also controversial when the Labour Government rightly legislated for civil partnerships. Once those things were done and the world did not end, public opinion changed, and that is what will happen when this legislation is passed.
I am part of that changing public opinion. I am by nature a small “c” conservative. I do not like change. There is a part of me which longs for the simpler, safer world of my childhood. I admire those like my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lady Noakes and my noble kinsman Lord Jenkin who have been totally consistent in their approach, but to be honest I am not sure whether I would have supported this Bill 15 or 20 years ago. I was sitting on the steps of the Throne during yesterday’s debate next to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, when his 2004 speech was quoted. He turned to me and said, “I was wrong. I have changed my mind”. He is right. Times have changed, and I have changed, and one of the reasons why I now support the Bill is because I have children in their twenties who, like many other young people in their teens, twenties and thirties—whose voice incidentally has been lacking from the national debate over the past few months—just do not understand what on earth the fuss is about. As others have said, the polls all show younger people to be overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill. My own sons have said that they are proud of me, their father, and indeed their grandfather, for supporting the Bill, and would have been ashamed had we voted against it. We need to recognise that for conservatism to work, we have to accept that the world changes. If we do not, we become an anachronism.