I support same-sex marriage and voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons.
I will absolutely oppose any move to compel any faith-based organisation to carry out marriage ceremonies for any couple where such action would be against their principles. As far as I’m aware, the UK and Scottish Governments have already explicitly given this commitment.
In 2009, I voted against the then Labour government on a three-line whip (the first time I ever did so) in support of the so-called “Freedom of speech” amendment tabled by Lord Waddington in the Lords. This amendment – resisted by my government at the time – read:
“For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”
This was a measure designed specifically to protect those of religious conviction from being prosecuted for expressing their views – an important principle that must be maintained in whatever legislative context.
However, in a secular society, it is difficult to justify excluding gay couples from the institution of marriage; what possible reasons would there be for denying a gay couple the right to be married in a registry office? Once that point is conceded, what would be the objection to a gay couple being married in a church where the leaders and membership were entirely relaxed about it?
I do not accept, as some may claim, that the definition of marriage has remained unaltered through history. There was a time when the church refused to recognise the right of divorced people to get remarried, for example (and some churches still maintain that prejudice). And there was a time when the primary purpose of marriage was seen as the raising of children. The notion that marriage can be purely for companionship between two people is, a relatively modern one, but one which I believe the vast majority of people can support.
Far from same-sex marriage being a threat to the institution of marriage, I believe that allowing gay couples to enter into such a union rather than live together unmarried not only strengthens society but also says a lot about how important marriage is, even to those who are currently excluded from it.
I do, however, acknowledge that the debate on this issue is in danger of demonising those who, for sincere reasons, oppose this change. In my experience, people of faith are not “homophobes”; rather they are informed by an interpretation of their faith. I hope that as this debate continues, we will not allow intolerance of those who are intolerant to hold sway.
Ultimately, I believe that we all must take responsibility for our own lives and the decisions we take. The state can regulate and legislate, but it is up to individuals to make decisions about our lives. I respect the views of those who oppose gay marriage; my advice to anyone of that belief would be: “Don’t marry someone of the same sex.”
Further reading: A Christian perspective on same-sex marriage (article for the Christian Socialist Movement)