Speech on Same Sex Marriage

Tuesday, 05 February 2013

Below is the video of the speech delivered by David Lammy MP during the Same Sex Marriage Bill debate on 5 February 2013.

Due to a 4 minute limit on backbench contributions, a longer version of the speech is copied below.


Before I begin, let me say that as a minister, I had the privilege of taking through the Gender Recognition Act through this House.

I want to say to the Minister that taking through a Bill that can affect so many people’s lives in such a positive way – that makes an indelible mark on our living, breathing constitution in the process – is an enormous privilege that will live with her for a long while to come.

Mr. Speaker, it is impossible not to feel a sense of history today.

It was the Houses of Parliament that commissioned, deliberated and published the Wolfenden Report over half a century ago.

It was in this Chamber that Leo Abse fought tooth and nail for its recommendations to be implemented and homosexuality to be decriminalised.

It was in this Chamber that the age of consent was equalised, where it was determined that homosexual couples had the same right to adopt as heterosexual ones and it was in this Chamber where Civil Partnerships were legislated for.

But let’s not pretend that this journey has been smooth and this House has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBT community, each step of the way.

Let us not forget that it was this Parliament that passed section 28.

It was in Parliament where the Earl of Harlsbury referred to homosexuals as a “reservoir for venereal diseases”; where Lord Swinfen claimed that gays and lesbians were “sexually disabled”.

It was from the benches opposite that Kenneth Hind – the former member for Lancaster West - that asked this chamber, rhetorically, if it really wanted “gays” teaching primary school children.

And it was this House that congratulated those burning of books deemed to be “homosexual propaganda” outside of a Catholic Primary School.

It was this House that turned a collective blind eye to the police beatings of LGBT rights activists at the first pride marches.

It was this House that spoke in glowing terms about the Reverend that went on hunger strike in protest at a council that dared to challenge the homophobic consensus.

That is why today should be one of atonement for the House.

…An opportunity for us to put in place the last piece in the equality jigsaw for the LGBT community.

…Where we can finally allow gay men and women the same rights to express their love through the institution of marriage.

Separate is not equal
Of course there are opponents.

There are those that say this is all happening too quickly.

…That the speed of change for LGBT rights is happening too abruptly for them to comprehend.

…That the country they live, the traditions they live by and the people they live next to are transforming in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, upset and undermined.

They are not homophobic, they are not racist, but they say “not now, later”.

And I sympathise.

As much as I would want Britain to always be the beating heart of radical and progressive change, it isn’t.

It has always had a small “c” conservative spine that runs through it.

...An instinct that change should always be organic.

A need for change to be owned by the people, not imposed from up high.

And we must respect that.

And I will be respecting that when I vote for this Bill.

…Because it does command the support of the country.

…Because it does respect religious freedom and tradition by permitting – rather than mandating – religious organisations to conduct the ceremonies.

…And because it is the end of an organic journey from criminality to equality for the gay community that began over half a century ago.

This change is right, this change is necessary and its time is now.

But there are still those that say that this is all unnecessary.

“Why do we need Gay Marriage when we already have Civil Partnerships”, they say.

“They are the same - separate but equal”, they claim.

Let me speak frankly.

“Separate but equal” is a fraud.

 “Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.

“Separate but equal” is the motif that determined that black and white could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets.

 “Separate but equal” are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers – schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty.

It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists.

It is the same statement, the same ideas and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote – but not until they were 30.

It is the same naivety that gave made my dad a citizen in 1956 but refused to condemn the landlords that proclaimed “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

It entrenched who we were, who our friends could be and what our lives could become.

This was not “Separate but equal” but “Separate AND discriminated”,

 “Separate AND oppressed”.

 “Separate AND browbeaten”.

 “Separate AND subjugated”.

Separate is NOT equal, so let us be rid of it.

Because as long as there is one rule for us and another for them, we allow the barriers to acceptance to stand unchallenged.

As long as our statute books suggest that the love between two men or two women is unworthy of being recognised through marriage, we allow the rot of homophobia to fester.

We entrench a society where 20,000 homophobic crimes take place each year.

…where 800,000 people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work in the last five years.

…And where even in 2013, gay men and women fear holding hands in certain streets in certain villages, towns and cities for fear of being ostracised, abused or even assaulted.

Let me be clear - I am proud that I voted for the introduction of Civil Partnerships.

It was an important step for LGBT rights in this country.

They enshrined gay couples with almost all of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

But they did not provide a parity of esteem.

Civil Partnerships were one step, now it is time for the next.

What is Marriage?
I am an Anglican.

Church is one of the few moments I can share with my family where we are all in the same room.

When I was younger, it was the priest who helped fill the father-shaped hole in my life after he left.

And it was the church that gave me the choral scholarship at Peterborough Cathedral that propelled me to where I am today.

It is with deep regret that the many letters in my postbag condemning this legislation are from some of the very same people I share a pew with on a Sunday morning.

I know them to be caring, loving and understanding people.

I know that most are not, in fact, homophobic.

I know that they resent the fact that those on the extremes of our faith have poisoned an important debate with references to polygamy and bestiality.

So let us use today to return to the discussion of what marriage ought to mean.

When I married my wife, I understood our marriage to have two important dimensions:

First, it was an expression of our love, fidelity and mutuality over the course of our life.

The Bible is complicated.

But its enduring message is not that homosexuality is wrong, it is to “love thy neighbour”.
It offers no caveats.

“Love thy neighbour” whether they are black or white, rich or poor.

“Love thy neighbour” whether they are short or tall, gay or straight, man or woman.

Love him, even if he used to be a she.

So how can we claim to love our neighbour if we do not allow them to love someone else in turn?

And what dangerous turn has our faith taken if a loving relationship between two people is a cause for concern rather than celebration?

The second dimension – as I understood it that day – is made clear by the [Catholic] Church briefing for today:

“Marriage has…been the enduring public recognition of [the] commitment to provide a stable institution for the care and protection of children, and it has rightly been recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection for this reason.”

So let me remind the House:

Homosexual couples can adopt.

Homosexual couples can appoint surrogate mothers.

Homosexual couples can secure a sperm donation.

Thanks to the Adoption of Children Act of 2002, homosexual couples across the country are raising children.

So opponents need to understand this:

The battle over whether homosexual can be worthy parents was fought ten years ago.

Like it or not, there are thousands of children who are being brought up the right way, in the proper way and in a caring and loving way in the homes of homosexual parents.

Attempting to reverse engineer that fact will prove futile – that Act will not be torn up, amended or overruled.

So if you truly believe that marriage is the best institution for raising children, then - at least out of a pragmatic desire to give those children the best start in life – you should be supporting this Bill through parliament.

Let me finish by pleading with those that say same-sex marriage is a violation of Christian thoughts, traditions and values:

Today, for the first time, we have the chance to allow ALL of our neighbours to marry the person that they love.

Today, for the first time, we have the chance to allow ALL families to raise their children in the institution most capable of giving them the love and nourishment that they need to prosper and succeed.

This is not a violation of Christian values - it is their triumph.

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