Peers plan revolt against equal marriage bill as it goes to Lords

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Peers in the House of Lords, are planning a final attempt to block the equal marriage bill for England and Wales, as it goes to the House of Lords.

It is expected that the debate in the Lords will go on into the night, or into a second day as seventy-five members have already signed up to speak in the debate.

Last week, the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. MPs voted 366 to 161 overwhelmingly in favour of passing the bill, giving it a majority of 205.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Tory Baroness Warsi, Minister for Community Cohesion, refused to lead the bill through the House of Lords, when asked to do so by David Cameron.

The former Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Lord (Geoffrey) Dear, Baron of Willersey in the County of Gloucestershire, who is leading opposition to the bill, said those opposed to it were not “anti-homosexual”.

“This is ill-thought through legislation that is being rushed through,” he said. “There are some 8,000 further amendments that will be necessary to existing legislation because of this single policy.

“Of those who said they would speak about half seem to be opposed. I really think the vote will be too close to call.”

On whether the Government might use the Parliament Act to drive through the bill, if it loses in the Lords, Lord Dear said he thought it was unlikely.

He continued: “The Parliament Act has been used only three times before. Opposition in the Commons was strong and there is not strong appetite amongst the public for this.”

Also among those opposed to the bill are the former head of the British army Lord Dannatt, and Lord Lothian, a former Tory chairman. Lord Waddington, former Home Secretary, Lord Luce, a minister in Baroness Thatcher’s Government, and Lord Singh of Wimbledon, who is a respected figure in the Sikh community are also opposed.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is rumoured to be making an appearance to speak against the bill, and one of his predecessors, Lord Carey of Clifton, has already put his name down to speak.

Lord Luce said: “You can’t suddenly pounce on the 2,000 year-old institution of marriage after such little consultation and with such little thought.

“This is all part of the Prime Minister’s ‘modernisation’ of our party, whatever that word is supposed to mean. This is all being handled in a very slap happy, careless manner.”

An independent Labour peer, Lord Stoddart, described the idea of equal marriage as “bogus”, questioning how gay and lesbian couples would “consummate” their marriages.

“Without consummation the marriage could be annulled at any point,” he said. “No one has been able to explain to me how homosexuals or lesbians would be able to actually consummate their marriage.

“People who voice concerns about this policy are told that we are bigots. I honestly think the bigots are on the other side of the argument. Many homosexual people do not want this.”

Some have said they expect dozens of Lords who normally do not attend Parliament, will all be in attendance, in order to speak against the bill, however Government whips are fighting off calls to allow a second day of debate on the issue.

Lord Hodgson, a Tory peer who expressed intentions to back the bill said it is “clearly a very divisive issue”.

He said: “I have children in their twenties who wonder what all the fuss is about and friends in their sixties who think this is the end of the world.

“The number of people who have put down to speak is quite staggering. We could go through the night on this… it looks very close.”

Voting in favour of the bill will be Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive and friend of Lord Mandelson, and Lord Deben, the former Conservative minister better known as John Gummer.

Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, who has campaigned for the bill said: “The Lords always has an important scrutiny role but they can’t ignore the fact that this BIll passed the elected House with a two to one cross-party majority.

“The Bill was debated for hours in Commons committee and every independent poll shows majority public support for the measure.

“Equal marriage is being introduced across the western world and I don’t believe peers will want to be out of step with changing attitudes.”