Baroness Knight: Registrars opposed to equal marriage are like pacifists during the First World War

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Speaking during Report stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Baroness Knight compared those opposed to equal marriage to conscientious objectors during the First World War.

The Baroness made the comments during the debate around the bill on Monday, which lasted over nine hours, and was the first of two days of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill’s Report Stage.

She began by noting her previous argument that Catholic adoption agencies had closed because they had refused to place children with same-sex couples.

She said: “I agree completely with what was said in the earlier debate about the monstrous way that we in this country and, I am afraid, other countries have treated homosexuals in the past.

“But it’s only wrong up to a point. We can demand that other rules are made that aren’t fair. More and more I come to the conclusion is that one person’s human rights are the denial of another person’s human rights.”

She went on to draw a comparison between those opposed to equal marriage, and conscientious objectors, who chose not to fight during the First World War.

“We agreed years ago—I think the first well known example occurred during the First World War—that people were able to have a conscientious objection to fighting. They were given other jobs, which were extremely important in the war effort, and that happened in the last war, too. We must guard and guide that trend. It is woefully and obviously wrong to say today that it is right that conscientious objections shall, in certain circumstances, be smothered. It has to be wrong. We must stand and defend those conscientious objections.”

She the noted Lady Williams’ observation that becoming a registrar was the “first step to a whole career”, but expressed concern that some people would not be able to become registrars if they were opposed equal marriage.

“I urge noble Lords to recognise that it is very dangerous for a free country to deny a person’s right to live by their conscience. We may not agree—it is not important at all—but everybody has a right to their conscience and to live by what it tells them. It is only fair to say that we must try to give the same human rights to everyone,” she said.

The Conservative peer voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the previous House of Lords vote. She hit the headlines when she said a higher authority” than any peer, had “already decided that people are not equal”, because “some people can see, others are blind”.

She dismissed suggestions of homophobia on BBC Radio 5 Live by saying: “We’ve all got friends who are homosexuals. They are often extremely, very, very good at artistic things, very good at things like antiques, knowledgeable. No reason at all to say that they’re not loving.”

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will resume Report stage on Wednesday 10 July.