Maria Miller: The time for equal marriage has finally come

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In her address to the Commons, shortly before MPs passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples Bill), Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister, Maria Miller said “now is the time” for equal marriage.

Here is her speech in full:-

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a third time.

I have spent some time thinking about how I would address the House today and the words that I would say at the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

For many different reasons, this is a subject which draws strong opinions on both sides of the debate. Just as the Civil Partnership Bill was discussed in pubs, homes, church halls and communities across the country, so has this Bill been.

Over the last few months I have listened carefully to many different voices within Parliament and also outside of it.

Throughout the Bill’s passage through this House we have had passionate but fair debates. But, in the best traditions of this House, we have maintained a respect for each other’s views.

And we have had open and constructive engagement with all involved.

That open approach has meant that the Government has taken action on some areas to improve the Bill, and been able, I hope, to reassure members on other issues of concern.

However, throughout, we have remained committed to the principle.

That people should not be excluded from marriage, simply because of who they love.

The institution of marriage underpins our society and over the years, as society has evolved, so has marriage.  As such, it has remained our bedrock. The values of love, commitment and stability that underpin marriage are the values upon which our society is built. I know that, despite other differences of opinion, there is no one in this House who would dispute that these are values that we should promote. 

And if the values of marriage are ones that we want to build our society upon, they must be values available to all, underpinning an institution available to all couples. 

Our country is renowned the world over for its tolerance. We have a rich tapestry of faith, belief and culture – it is unique and it is part of what it is to be British. It is because of these strong traditions that enabling same-sex couples to marry will in no way undermine those who believe, whether for religious or philosophical reasons, that marriage should be between a man and a woman.That is their right. 

No religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if they choose not to.

Nor will they be forced to have same-sex marriages conducted on their premises.  

The quadruple lock which the Government has designed provides robust and effective protections.

The Government is also clear that this Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or outside work, from expressing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Teachers will still be able to express their personal beliefs about marriage and those of their faith, as long as this is done in a sensitive and appropriate way.

Employers will not be able to dismiss or discipline a person just because they say they do not believe in same-sex marriage.

I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed around these issues – and the right for people to legitimately express their beliefs.

That is why we have committed to do all we can clarify or strengthen the protections around freedom of expression.

I understand the importance that Rt Honourable members place on this.

I am confident that we have struck the right balance in the construction of this bill.

We have listened carefully to the concerns which have been raised and we have made changes to the Bill on the basis of those concerns. 

I believe that in the years ahead we will look back on the passage of this Bill as we now look back on the introduction of Civil Partnerships. We will be no doubt that equal marriage is right and we will be proud that we made it happen.

It has been important that we have gone through detailed and challenging issues during this bill.

Equal marriage will correct something that is fundamentally unfair. It removes a barrier that prevents a whole group of people from access to an institution that underpins our society. 

Civil partnerships were created to give same-sex couples equivalent legal rights to those of marriage at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage.  

Although I am clear that taking a decision on the future of civil partnerships now would not be a responsible thing to do, I have listened to the concerns that members have expressed in this area.

As such, we have agreed to undertake an immediate review of Civil Partnerships.

Today we have had further discussions and as the bill has progressed through the house, members have drawn other issues into the bill and one of those is humanist ceremonies  – an issue which we debated earlier today.

The system of marriage in England and Wales is based on a system of premises and not, as in Scotland, celebrants.

A change of this nature would be a fundamental change to the current structure of marriage. And, as has happened in Scotland it would also open to the door to a range of other belief organisations being able to conduct marriages such as the Paganists and the Spiritualists.

As stated by the Attorney General, the amendment debated earlier, would have given preferential treatment to one particular belief group and would have made the Bill incompatible with the Convention on Human Rights. 

As I said earlier, this is a complicated issue and one which is not in keeping with the main purpose of this Bill.

I accept that for some colleagues their beliefs mean that the principle of this issue is an insurmountable barrier to supporting this change.

But to other colleagues I say, now is the time.

Let us not be side-tracked nor distracted. Let us not expand the remit of this Bill beyond its original intention.

Let us make equal marriage possible because it is the right thing to do and then let us move on.

I am pleased to commend this Bill to the House.