With today’s third reading in the House of Lords, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed its hurdles in their Lordships House to pass into law. The final hurdle is not quite here but should not be too long. All that is left is passing the amended Bill in the House of Commons once more. Many peers have had many things to say on the Bill, some at length. Many have not made much sense. However, today, Lord Rowlands CBE made his only contribution to the Bill, and he has connected the votes for this Bill to those voting for the Sexual Offences Bill in 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality. His speech from today’s Lords Hansard is reproduced below.
My Lords, I rise to make a brief contribution—my one and only contribution to the Bill—because listening to the debates and reading the correspondence has brought vivid memories back to me of voting at 4.27 am, 46 years ago this month, by 99 votes to 14 for Mr Leo Abse’s Sexual Offences Act decriminalising homosexuality. I was a 27 year-old Member of Parliament who had only been elected the year before, totally unexpectedly so because I was not expected to win a Conservative stronghold. That brief political experience did not prepare me for the vehemence of the reaction to my stance in that year. I have never since come across anything quite like the level of abuse and vehemence that I received in certain quarters of the constituency because of my support for that Bill. How could I possibly legitimise such horrid, heinous and sinful practices? The church, at that time, took rather a curious position on the Bill. It kind of supported it because it could help in the mission to save the sinful souls of homosexuals. The Bishop of London of the time said that it would allow,
“the reformation and recovery … of those who have become the victims of homosexual practices”.—[Official Report, 13/7/67; col. 1291.]
I do not know how well that mission has succeeded since.
I have alluded to this past experience for two reasons. First, I have been impressed and pleased by how much more measured, more sensible and more mature a debate we have had this time on such sensitive issues as opposed to way back in 1967. It shows that society itself has matured and, I believe, become more capable of handling such issues in a sensitive and helpful manner. Nevertheless, passions and fears have been aroused by the Bill. Therefore, the second reason why I have referred to this past experience is that, in such situations, I have always found that a bit of historical perspective is helpful. Has anyone ever tried to repeal that heinous, horrible Bill of 1967? No. Did all the dire consequences, which my constituents at that time said would happen to society if we supported the Bill, come to pass? I do not think so. Therefore, I believe that, with the passage of time, we will also find with this Bill that some of the fears that have been expressed will prove unfounded, as they were after 1967.
In my personal relations, I am as old fashioned and strait laced as can be. I had a 35-year marriage to one woman until death did us part, so I have had the experience and joy of a long and happy marriage. I do not believe that I should deprive gay people of that same opportunity. It is about equality before the law. As I said, the vote to which I referred earlier took place at the uncivilised time of 4.27 am. We can support the Third Reading of this Bill at a civilised time because the Bill itself is civilising.
Now it has (nearly) passed in England and Wales, Equal Marriage is a right in the United Kingdom that those of us living in Northern Ireland are likely to be denied. Hopefully, some MLA will bring in a private member’s Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly to repeal article 6(6)(e) of The Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 No. 413 (N.I. 3). It can’t be that difficult to do that surely?