Our legislation to equalise marriage reaches an important stage tonight, when it comes back before the full House of Commons.
There has been a lot of debate on our proposed changes, and about what is the nature of marriage. Over the centuries our society has changed enormously. But marriage - because of its ability to evolve as our times have - has remained a bedrock of our lives. Many of us have been part of the wedding celebrations of friends and family, and many of us have excitedly planned our own weddings. It is a common experience across our country yet, as things stand, some couples cannot commit to each other and celebrate their commitment in this way, simply because they love someone of the same sex.
There is no doubt about the fundamental value that we place upon marriage and its role at the heart of our society. Marriage embodies the principles of love, loyalty and commitment - all vital components of a strong society. Marriage brings stability and it binds us together. It makes our families stronger.
And it is those principles that we are championing through the Equal Marriage Bill which continues its journey through Parliament tonight. Over the last few months there have been many contributions from both sides of the debate. I have listened carefully, responded to allay concerns and laid amendments to avoid doubt. I still believe, absolutely, that what we are doing is right. I simply don't believe that in this day and age we can argue that same sex couples should be excluded from the institution of marriage.
I do not believe that our legislation holds any threat for those who feel differently to me on this issue. The new legislation will not marginalise those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, it will not discriminate against those in faith schools who teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and it will not force priests, imams or rabbis to conduct same sex marriages against their wishes.
This proposal recognises, respects and values the very important role that faith plays in our lives. There are many people whose religious beliefs mean that they don't feel comfortable with marriage being available to same-sex couples. We have always been absolutely clear that being able to follow your faith openly is a vital freedom in this country, and one that we will protect. It is a freedom that our country is renowned for. We will continue to oppose vigorously any attempt to undermine the long-held freedom that religions have in this country to preach, teach and put into practice their beliefs about marriage.
As we have progressed our legislation, questions have been raised about whether we should also extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. I do not believe this is the right thing to do - and neither do Stonewall or the Church of England. I have been clear that this Bill is about extending marriage to same-sex couples and correcting something that is fundamentally unfair. But I know that there are strong views on both sides of this debate and we have listened to those views. We are therefore offering an opportunity to have a review of this area after the legislation has passed, rather than legislating now without any evidence.
Our plans are based on the fundamental values and principles which bind us together as a society. I remain of the view that, far from being a radical departure, equal marriage is simply one more in a long line of reforms which have strengthened marriage, ensuring it remains as relevant to our society as it ever was. It will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of people and we should be proud that we now live in a society which makes it possible.
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