Thank you for writing to me about the government’s MARRIAGE (SAME SEX COUPLES) BILL.
I am very sorry that you are concerned about my decision to vote in support of same sex marriage. I know that this issue has caused genuine concern for a number of constituents, indeed for a number of constituents who are generally supportive of same sex relationships and civil partnerships. I should add that a significant number of constituents have also contacted me to express their support for my decision and that surveys have shown that 80 per cent of adults under the age of 50 in the UK now support same sex marriage legislation, including three in five people with faith.
I see the Bill not as redefining marriage but as reflecting the role and importance of marriage in today’s civil society. Civil marriage is no longer primarily about procreation – witness the number of heterosexual couples who marry past childbearing age – or about securing property rights and family dynasties as it was in the past. Civil marriage in today’s Britain is primarily about the lifelong commitment of two people to each other. I cannot see how it is acceptable to exclude a significant proportion of the population from being able to make that commitment.
Having said that I am also deeply conscious of the importance of religious beliefs for many of my constituents, and the positive role that faith plays in our communities and our cities. Freedom of religion is extremely important. No faith group should be required to hold same sex marriages or redefine their religious understanding of marriage.
This Bill I am pleased to see provides strong protection for freedom of religion, including safeguards so that no church, faith group or individual minister can be required to conduct a same sex marriage. Religious freedom is guaranteed in law and both the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights also include protection of religious belief.
There is therefore no question of forcing Churches, Mosques or Synagogues to change their practices but those who wish to perform marriages for same sex couples should be allowed to do so. Some religious groups, including Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Judaism do want to hold same sex marriage and I am glad the Bill will allow them to do so.
I know that fears have been expressed that teaching in schools might be adversely affected by the Bill. Similar fears were expressed prior to the civil partnerships legislation in 2004, that measure now has widespread support and the fears that it might prove difficult for schools and other bodies did not materialise.
MPs will have a free vote on the Bill and I am sure there will be a wide ranging debate in which the issues you raise will be discussed. Whilst I will vote in favour of the Bill, I will pass on any concerns you wish to express if the Bill is passed to the relevant Minister and will be keen to ensure that the legislation succeeds in addressing the legitimate concerns raised.
Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central