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. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder