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Reflections on the debate over the same sex marriage bill in the House of Lords

July 2013

From an anonymous observer:

I was present in the House of Lords on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th June. Predictably, to listen to the whole debate on the same-sex marriage Bill gave a very different picture to that presented by the media afterwards.

A long series of devastating criticisms were made of the Bill: including the principle of the Bill; the process by which it has been pushed through Parliament so far; and the many unintended consequences that might follow. There were some stunning speeches. The highlight, for me, was hearing Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff of the British Army, arguing that the way the Bill had been pushed through has been an abuse of democracy. He said (among many other things!): ‘Following due process and procedure is a principle that I spent the 40 years of my professional life upholding. We fought for the ballot box for 38 years in Northern Ireland. We stood for democracy against communism for 44 years in Europe. We stood for the democratic rights of self-determination in the Falklands in 1982 and we still do. And now as a Parliamentarian I am asked to accept an abuse of the democratic process and I will not do it.’

There were other powerful speeches, and at times, for those in the chamber, the ‘mood’ was with Lord Dear. If the vote had been held late on Monday evening, Lord Dear’s motion might have carried. But, on Tuesday afternoon, the chamber filled with hundreds of peers who hadn’t been there for the debate, they just turned up to vote down Lord Dear’s amendment, and get the Bill through to the next stage.

During the debate, it was predictable, but tragic, to hear many peers boasting of their Christian credentials, and claiming that God supports gay marriage. It was sad to see some of these who turned up right at the end openly mocking Lord Dear as he made his closing case.

Equally, it was encouraging to hear people with clarity and courage making the case for real marriage. It was good to hear peers quoting many of the arguments that have been put forward by C4M in their various briefings. It was telling that numbers of peers observed that they had been inundated with correspondence on the subject, the great majority of it deeply hostile to the Bill. It was good to know that so many did take the opportunity to write to peers. Some peers did draw the conclusion that if this legislation is pushed through, there will be a price to pay in terms of social cohesion (a large section of the population will be marginalised for their sincere beliefs).

In the end, 148 peers voted with Lord Dear. It’s worth pointing out that numbers of other peers had stated that they were completely opposed to the Bill in principle, but that they still would not vote with Lord Dear, for a variety of reasons. There is a strong current of opinion in the Lords which will keep fighting the Bill, and, at the least, attempt to secure stronger protections. Churches which meet in rented premises, for example, could be immediately vulnerable unless better protections are given. We need to be thankful for those in both Houses of Parliament who are very determined to maintain pressure against the Bill.

I was glad to be in the Chamber over that two days to witness the courage and clarity of Lord Dear and many others, but, equally, it was deeply sad to be there to witness the many times in which the name of Christ was dishonoured by those who claimed his support for gay marriage.

I came away more convinced than ever that at a time when so many are willing to believe lies, we must go on telling the truth, whatever the consequences. From the time that this Bill was introduced, both the government and the media effectively want people to ‘shut up’ about it. They want to give the impression that the debate is over, there’s no point at all in trying to argue that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Does that mean we should stop telling the truth? Surely the opposite is the case.

This week, hearing lies told, and truth trampled underfoot, has only served to highlight the fact that God is faithful and true and unchanging. And our trust in the truth of his Word, and our enjoyment of fellowship with him, are realities that can never be taken away from us. Those realities can and must strengthen our resolve to pray with far more urgency for God to intervene and revive our church, our nation and our world. Only God can open closed hearts and minds to truth, and, ultimately, to salvation.

The footage of the debate is here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=13196