‘Marriage not equal to civil partnership’

Nick Herbert at the General election count at Christs Hospital in 2012 photo by derek martin
Nick Herbert at the General election count at Christs Hospital in 2012 photo by derek martin

The MP for Arundel and South Downs Nick Herbert outlined his support on same sex marriage a number of times this week.

Before voting on Tuesday Mr Herbert spoke in Parliament of his own experience of growing up knowing he was gay in a society which was hostile to such identity.

He also said he would not have voted for such a Bill unless he believed religious freedom would be protected.

He said: “When I was born, homosexual conduct was a crime. Not so long ago, it was possible to sack someone because they were gay. People did not dare to be open.

“Thank goodness so much has changed in my lifetime. That progress should be celebrated, but we should not believe that the journey is complete. I think of the gay children who are still bullied at school or who are fearful about whether their friends and families accept them.

“I think of sportsmen and women-vital role models-who still do not feel able to come out. The signal we send today about whether the law fully recognises the place of gay people in our society will really matter.

“Above all, I think of two people, faithful and loving, who simply want their commitment to be recognised, as it is for straight couples. That, in the end, is what this Bill is about.

“Millions will be watching us today-not just gay people, but those who want to live in a society where people are treated equally and accepted for who they are.

“They will hear our words and remember our votes. I hope that, once again, this House will do the right thing.”

He shared his joy of being able to enter a civil partnership.

“Entering a civil partnership was the most important thing I have done in my life. At that time, civil partnerships were opposed by the Churches, a significant proportion of the public and many Hon. Members.

“Just eight years later, only a small minority of the public oppose civil partnerships and many Hon. Members who voted against the change now say they support it.

“People choose marriage for a reason: they know that it means something special. Indeed, it is because marriage is different that many are opposing the change, so we cannot say that civil partnerships are the same or dismiss the debate as being about a name.

“Marriage is one of the most important institutions in our society. It concerns many of us that it is in decline, yet while many move away from marriage, one group turns towards it. Gay couples are now asking to be admitted.

“Here we have a section of society who are saying that they want to declare commitment and that they value stability, in the sight of the public and perhaps of God.

“We defenders of marriage should be gratefully opening the doors, yet the reaction of some has been to slam them shut.’’

Mr Herbert also tried to address some of the concerns raised by people of faith.

He said: “The Church of England and the Catholic Church object to gay marriage. I disagree with them, but their religious freedom is surely among the greatest prizes in our democracy.

“I would not vote for this Bill unless I believed that it protected religious freedom.

“No faith group should be compelled by law to conduct a gay marriage against its will, and none will be, but religious freedom cuts both ways.

“Why should the law prevent liberal Jews, Quakers or Unitarian Churches from conducting gay marriages, as they wish to?

“With the proper safeguards for faith groups and individuals to exercise their consciences and to disagree, I do not believe that there are sufficient grounds to oppose a measure that allows gay marriages for others.

“No one has to enter a gay marriage. No one’s church has to conduct a gay marriage.

“We simply have to agree that someone else can enter a gay marriage.”

Page 14: How our MPs voted in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill