I believe that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, and that the lifelong commitment people make to each other when they make their marriage vows means something profound to them, and benefits society as a whole. I believe that these vows have great significance to the couples taking them regardless of their sex or sexuality. I say that as a father, a husband, a Roman Catholic and a Conservative Party Member of Parliament.
I believe in the freedom of expression and religious belief. People should be free to believe that marriage in The Church should only be available to couples of the opposite sex, who accept the religious significance and meaning of the sacrament they are asking to receive. I believe that priests and church leaders should be free to decide who should marry in their church. There never has been, for example, a human right to marry in the Catholic Church, and The Church may already exclude divorcees, non-Catholics and people who, at the discretion of the priest, it does not believe are ready for marriage.
The Same Sex Marriage Bill currently before parliament delivers against all of the beliefs I have set out, which is why I have supported it. Some people have questioned the safeguards that have been put in place to protect peoples freedom of expression, and the amendments to the bill being debated in parliament today and tomorrow are largely focused on strengthening these. These are arguments that need to be taken seriously and they do not undermine the primary purpose of the legislation.
The question I would put to people who are generally opposed to same sex marriage, is that given the freedom of the churches to decide who they marry is protected, why are you against equalising civil marriage ceremonies, conducted in registry offices, so that they are also available to couples of the same sex. Which when you boil down the Bill is what it amounts to. What is the moral or religious argument for not allowing this in our civil law?
Some may say that allowing same sex marriage is a further step down the path of our society becoming more secular and marginalising the position of The Church and its teaching. In response to this, the proverb, "Physician, heal thyself" comes to mind. If the social and moral authority of The Church has been undermined, it has not been by parliament, but more by the actions of men like Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
I personally think we should have this debate, and where is there a more appropriate place to hold it than in the House of Commons. The argument that some have put forward that parliament has become obsessed with the issue and that it has taken up too much valuable time is nonsense. This Bill will have been debated for just three days in the chamber of the House of Commons, in the three years since the last election. In that time, considerably more attention has been given to the welfare of animals and insects, than moral and ethical questions related to the lives of human beings.