I have received many pre-printed postcards and organised emails and some individually written communications from constituents regarding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government which will have its Second Reading on Tuesday 5 February.
It is clear that the proposal to introduce same-sex marriage has provoked a strong reaction from a large number of people. The Government’s recent public consultation on this issue received a record response. However it is also clear that many people support the proposal. I am pleased that recent surveys have shown 80 per cent of adults under the age of 50 in the UK now support same sex marriage legislation, including 3 in 5 people with faith.
I am proud that the previous Labour Government made a number of important changes to improve equalities legislation, including the introduction of Civil Partnerships in 2004 in face of considerable opposition. Civil partnerships now have widespread support and I believe it is the right time to take the next step.
I firmly believe in marriage. Marriage is an important statement of love and long term commitment, and has long been the main way that the state and society recognise and show support for loving relationships. I believe that couples who love each other and want to make that long-term commitment to each other should be able to marry, regardless of their gender or their sexuality. Same sex couples should have the same recognition from the state as everyone else
I appreciate that some people and some religious groups take a different view. Freedom of religion is extremely important and all the main political parties are united in the belief that faith groups should be protected. I am pleased that freedom of religion is therefore rightly written onto the face of the legislation, meaning that no church, mosque or other faith group will be obliged to hold same sex marriage ceremonies if they do not wish to.
However, freedom of religion also means it is important that those churches and religious organisations that want to celebrate same-sex marriage are able to opt-in to doing so.
It is important that Parliament now has an opportunity to look more closely at the detail of the Government’s proposals.
I am pleased that there is a free vote for Members of Parliament on the issue.
I intend to vote in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill tomorrow so that it can then be subjected to detailed consideration at the Committee stage.