18 arguments made against gay marriage in the House of Lords

Many in the upper house feel strongly that gay marriage legislation should not be allowed to pass. Here are a few of their reasons.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was debated in the House of Lords yesterday. Over 90 peers put their names down to speak – predictably, it’s a hotly contested issue in the upper house. While there were passionate speeches made on both sides, the debate was notable for the range and breadth of the arguments made against the idea of gay marriage in general, and this Bill in particular. They are summarised and quoted below – click on the peer’s name to read the full speech in Hansard.

1. It would make the word “marriage” meaningless (also, something to do with Lewis Carroll).

Lord Dear:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’, Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’, Alice objected. When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.

I would suggest that if we substitute the word “marriage” for “glory” we get somewhere very close to the essence of today’s debate. As Humpty Dumpty might have said: “There’s a nice knock-down argument for you. Marriage means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.

2. It would be confusing and awkward for everyone.

Archbishop of Canterbury:

The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the Bill is an awkward shape, with same-gender and different-gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as a covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society, as we have already heard, is weakened.

3. Those who are anti-gay marriage could be accused of a hate crime.

Lord Waddington:

From the obligation to care for any children, and to consummate the marriage or face a decree of nullity, to the commitment to sexual fidelity, with the threat of divorce on the grounds of adultery, there is no way in which the union of a man and a woman, with all these serious implications, can be compared with the wish of a couple to see their partnership publicly recognised.

Ordinary people with deep feelings about the sanctity of marriage will also be demonised as homophobic and will be very lucky if they do not finish up accused of hate crime.

4. It would diminish the role of women.

Bishop of Leicester:

I could not help noticing in the debate in this House on International Women’s Day the underlying assumption that women bring a special quality to the public square and that the complementarity of men and women is what enriches and stabilises society. Yet, in the realm of public discourse, assertion of sexual difference in relation to marriage has become practically unspeakable, in spite of the fact that it is implicitly assumed by most people in the course of everyday life. Equal marriage will bring to an end the one major social institution that enshrines that complementarity.

5. It would lead to state-sanctioned polygamy.

Lord Anderson of Swansea:

Today, the borders are clear. Where, then, are the new borders as one sets out on this path? There will be increased pressures for polygamy. In short, marriage should surely not be available for everyone, even if they love one another. The state cannot lightly modify the meaning of words that have stood the test of time, as with Orwellian Newspeak.

6. Gay people will regret it in the long run.

Baroness Cumberlege:

I believe that, in time, LGBT people will regret attaching their unions to heterosexual marriage. Soon they will say, “No, we are different. We want be different and we need to create our own institution”. Like a flag, a motto or a name, they need to find their own terminology, their own symbols to express their rights and their different contribution to society—acknowledgment and respect for their own institution of partnership. I urge these people to be bold, to be confident and eschew the institutions of others, to build their own and be themselves. 

7.  Marriage can only exist for heterosexual couples.

Lord Campbell-Savours:

The truth is that I cannot get my head round two people of the same sex being in a relationship defined as a marriage, however much they love each other. I hold to a simple traditional view that the word “marriage” can apply only in heterosexual relationships.

8. The Prime Minister has introduced the Bill on a whim.

Lord Naseby:

There has been no Green Paper, no White Paper and no royal commission. Much has been done on a whim, sadly, and that is not a good start for any controversial piece of legislation. It is made even sadder by the fact that three days before the election one of the candidates for Prime Minister stated that he was “not planning” to introduce same-sex marriage.

9. Removing the requirement for consummation from marriage will lead to inter-sibling unions.

Lord Edmiston:

The reason marriage is limited to one man and one woman is that it takes no more and no less to produce children. If we were to accept that love is the precondition for marriage, why should we restrict it? If there is no possibility of genetic offspring or indeed no requirement for consummation, why should not close relatives get married? If that were to happen, I can see all sorts of interesting possibilities for inheritance tax planning. We would open a Pandora’s Box. I do not believe we have looked closely enough at the unintended consequences.

10. Not even gay people support gay marriage.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon:

There is no evidence of majority support for this measure, even in the gay community. In an article in the Daily Mail, the well known columnist Andrew Pierce writes that he is a gay man who opposes gay marriage. Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, who is in a civil partnership, is implacably opposed to gay marriage. David Starkey, the openly gay historian, is also opposed to the concept of gay marriage. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was the first Cabinet Minister to enter into a civil partnership, has openly criticised the idea of gay marriage, saying that the move to smash centuries of church teaching is “pure politics” and not wanted by the gay community, which has already won equality through civil partnerships.

11. It is hurting people’s feelings.

Marquess of Lothian:

Far from achieving understanding, it is already creating confusion. Far from building harmony, it will create disharmony, anger and long-lasting hurt.

12. The disagreement over gay marriage risks reversing the progress that has already been made on gay rights.

Lord Dannatt:

I fear that the atmosphere created by the tabling of the Bill is potentially divisive. For decades there have been vigorous debates about the acceptability of homosexual orientation and lifestyles. Tempers have been raised and emotions have flowed, but whatever individuals thought about homosexual or heterosexual lifestyles, an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance has been established in all but the most narrow-minded circles. The tabling of the Bill runs the risk of driving a cart and horses through that atmosphere, which has been carefully built up, of acceptance building on previous tolerance.

13. Some of the phrasing in the Bill is a bit convoluted.

Lord Quirk:

This is perhaps especially manifest in the 60-page document, laughably called Explanatory Notes, which has several explanations such as this one on page 29, which states that,

“‘husband’ here will include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage … In a similar way, ‘wife’ will include … a man married to a man”.

Such linguistic acrobatics, distorting the marital bed into a Procrustean one, are inherent in the Bill at present. They smack, not so much of Humpty Dumpty’s world—as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, implied this morning—as of the dystopias of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. After all, Lewis Carroll was only joking; Swift and Orwell were deadly serious.

14. The Famous Lesbian Queen Conundrum (explained in more detail by Lord Tebbit here).

Lord Tebbit:

There is, I believe, no bar to a lesbian succeeding to the Throne. It may happen. It probably will, at some stage. What, then, if she marries and her partner bears a child by an anonymous sperm donor? Is that child the heir to the Throne? If the Queen herself subsequently bore a child by an anonymous donor, which child then, if either, would inherit the Throne? The possibilities must have been discussed in the deep consideration of this Bill in government, so the Minister must know the answer. If she does not know it immediately, I am sure that her officials will be able to give it to her, because it has all been discussed thoroughly.

15. People might lose their jobs.

Lord Davies of Stamford:

The one that has been mentioned is the fate of people who might lose their jobs as a result of this Bill being enacted. We should all be extremely concerned about that. What about registrars, whom no one has mentioned? As I read the Bill, registrars, unlike priests and ministers of religion, will not have the opportunity to opt out. Are they all going to be fired? Are they going to be compensated? Is a decent effort going to be made to find them another decent job? We need to know. We cannot possibly allow this Bill to go on the statute book without having an answer to those questions.

16. Some doctors are apparently against it.

Lord Hylton:

There is ample evidence that public opinion, including medical opinion, is against the Bill.

17. Civil partnerships already perform the legal functions of a marriage.

Bishop of Exeter:

Why was civil partnership insufficient? Such partnerships already allow couples to share the legal benefits of marriage and, if there are remaining differences, it is easy to amend the law. I struggle to hear what is missing.

18. Not everyone agrees about it.

Lord Flight:

If there is one single point on which I think this Bill should not proceed, it is that the nation is absolutely divided. I do not know whether it is 70% one way or the other or if it is 50/50, but it is clear that, in the main, the senior part of the country believes in the traditional role of marriage and wishes to keep it, while a lot of younger people think that it is all a load of hooey and ask, basically, why anyone should get married. There is an absolute divide, and in this sort of territory I believe that it is a mistake to push through legislation until there is some form of consensus.


As a post-script, I thought I would include this from Baroness Berridge, who delivered an interesting speech touching on the role of the House of Lords in relation to gay marriage. The important quote:

Do I want to vote against this Bill? Yes. Should I? No.

A protestor holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.