Yvette Cooper MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, speaking in the House of Commons at the Third Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, said:
I am very proud that we have reached the 3rd reading of this Bill in the House of Commons and I hope that honourable members on all sides of this House will feel now they too can be proud to support this Bill and be proud to be on the right side of history.
Can I thank the Prime Minister and the Government front bench for bringing this Bill forward.
I am proud too that Labour votes passed this Bill at second reading and will do so again this week.
We are strongly committed to this Bill.
There are of course issues where many on this side have disagreed with the Government. For example, their handling of humanism, which we hope will be discussed further in the Lords. We also wanted early progress on addressing issues around opposite sex civil partnerships, as an issue of equality before the law. I hope we have now agreed progress in these areas.
The Secretary of State will know we have approached each of these issues, even where we have disagreed, in a considered way to make sure that the Bill can still make progress. I’m glad that Labour votes and votes from across this House have made sure no one now has any excuse to delay or ditch this important legislation, that I believe will bring so much happiness to so many people.
I thank too all members of this House who have championed this legislation, even where they have faced pressure in their own constituencies not to do so, because it is the right thing to do.
Can I thank too honourable members who have sat on the committee, and have worked hard at every stage to get this Bill through , paying particular thanks to my honourable friends the member for Stretford and Urmston and the member for Rhonda who have done immense work on the front bench, and also my honourable friends, who have supported them in committee too.
I am sure they will agree with me, as will the Government front bench, that as frontbenchers charged with taking through Bills which depend on free votes, there is nothing that makes you more grateful for the normal presence of whips, who I am glad join us today.
Can I particularly thank those who have backed this Bill under pressure, not always easy – whether it be from constituents, from local Conservative associations or from local churches and organisations, or in the case of the Prime Minister from half his Parliamentary party. And I do thank the Prime Minister for bringing forward this bill in the face of opposition.
It is, Mr Speaker, the right thing to do, because this Parliament can now join Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden and Uruguay. And France, who have just passed their own legislation.
And, of course, New Zealand whose MPs last month celebrated their gay marriage legislation in fabulous style, by breaking into song.
We can only wonder what would happen if the Secretary of State and I leapt up and started leading a Eurovision style chorus of ‘Congratulations’ and maybe – Abba-style – maybe not ‘One Man One Woman’, but ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.’
We should remind people why we are doing this.
Because, it’s time to give same sex couples the same rights as opposite sex couples – to get married.
It’s time for equality in marriage.
Time, as I have said before, for us to celebrate, not discriminate, when a couple decide they want to make a promise to stick together as long as they both shall live.
I’ve had many emails, letters and responses since we had the second reading debate.
I want to share some of these briefly with the House.
One man wrote to me describing the difficulties he had had being accepted by his family because of his sexuality. He said; “My partner of 14 years is neither recognised nor accepted. It is however fantastic to hear politicians… standing up for people like me, ensuring that we can become equals at least in the eyes of the state, if not in the eyes of our parents and our religions.”
Another wrote to me to say, “I’m a 23 year old gay man… I’ve had people tell me all my life that I am less worthy, wrong and sinful because of my sexuality, and although I’ve been incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends throughout, it does grind you down. And it can hurt, really and truly hurt.”
And he too described the importance of seeing politicians in this House, as he said: “so publically and passionately support the rights of people like myself and many others to have a more equal standing in society is really one of the most empowering things that can be done – political leaders standing up for those whose voices so often get silenced. I truly feel it is an historic moment in Britain and all I can say is thank you.”
And that is what this Bill is all about.
Rarely is legislation so personal. Rarely does this House have the chance to strongly reaffirm the equal respect we have for every human being – regardless of their sexuality – and the equal respect we have for their loving long term relationships too.
Yes, we have has in the course of these debates strong objections to this Bill and in this House we show respect for each other’s views, though we disagree with them.
Some have been concerned about the impact of this Bill on their faith. Some have objected to aspects of this Bill on grounds of their faith.
It is important for us to respect freedom of religion and I believe that this Bill has done exactly that. I hope that those members will feel reassured that their concerns have been respected. Of course no religious organisation or priest can be required to conduct same sex marriage and there are multiple locks in the Bill which prevent that happening.
But it is also very important to remember that many people with strong faith also strongly support this Bill. We should not see this Bill as something which promotes a secular- faith divide. Because it does not. I am very pleased that the Quakers, the Unitarians and Reform Judaism have said they want to be able to celebrate same sex marriages – and I am very pleased they will be able to do so as a result if this Bill. And I hope that other faiths will change their minds over time in the future too.
Because that is freedom of religion too.
Mr Speaker we have heard other objections to this Bill in the course of these debates.
Including, we have heard people claim that somehow allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married will undermine the marriage of heterosexual couples.
But how will it?
There are MPs in this House who will be able to get married as a result of this Bill. Excellent. I hope for an invitation to the reception.
But does that undermine my marriage?
How could it? Unless of course they want to marry the Shadow Chancellor.
It doesn’t undermine the marriage of anybody in this House or anybody across the country.
The idea that two brides tying the knot says anything about the relationship of their next door neighbours is simply ludicrous.
Nor is it good enough to say that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman.
Because marriage has changed before and it can do so again.
That is not a definition, it is a discrimination.
Indeed we have seen the temperature of these debates sometimes raised too high.
And in particular we have seen this become part of the internal debates within the Conservative party.
But let me just say this.
Fighting over Europe is one thing – they are welcome to it.
But I hope the Conservative Party will stop fighting on this.
I hope that they will join Members across this House in being proud of this legislation.
And I have heard many of the honourable members talk about the anger in their constituencies, the anger among their party members.
I just hope they feel able to stop talking about the anger and start talking about the joy.
The joy we can deliver for those who want to get married, just as their parents did.
The joy we can make possible for the couple who want to get married, just as their sister or brother did last year.
The joy we can provide by saying to couples across Britain, we won’t discriminate against you on the grounds of your sexuality. We respect and support and celebrate your relationship.
Members may recall that in the second reading debate, I argued then that marriage was about the joy and the sorrow, the excitement and the tragedy, the romance not just of the wedding day, but the deeper romance of growing old and grey together even once the party has faded.
And I gave the example of an elderly couple – one caring for the other with dementia. And the love, the commitment and duty that shows, and how powerful that is - whether it be a man and a woman, two men, or two women.
And in response to that, I had one email from a man who wrote: “I was particularly touched at your reference to a couple enduring dementia – this is precisely what my parents are now facing after 54 years of marriage. The example they have shown me over my lifetime and now that my mother suffers with the disease is precisely what marriage is all about. I try every day to live up to their example, as I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my partners whom I love very much. I expect in this day and age, and for generations to come, that we should be able to have our commitment to each other acknowledged in law in an equal way with our straight friends. Your argument is truly Christian in nature, entirely humanist and on the right side of history. My partner and I, our families, and our future children thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
So I do thank those who are supporting this Bill.
So let’s be loud and proud.
Let’s start the singing.
Let’s celebrate, not discriminate.
Let’s pass this Bill.
Let’s put aside the anger.
And let’s hear it for the joy.