Baroness Stowell's final speech on the last day of equal marriage bill debate

On 15 July 2013, Baroness Stowell, Equalities Spokesperson in the House of Lords, gave these final few words before the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill was passed by the Upper House to return to the House of Commons for consideration of the amendments made by peers:

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for ensuring that everybody got a fair mention in tributes. Having spoken at some length at the end of the previous debate, I shall keep my remarks brief. I am sorry if my remarks then seemed to pre-empt a debate on Bill do now pass, but I was not sure whether there would be a debate on that and felt that there were some important things that I wanted to get on record, which is why I took the opportunity when I did.

I said at Second Reading, and have done so a couple of times since, that we all move at different paces when faced with change. I most certainly respect anyone who has a different view about whether couples of the same sex should be able to marry, and I would never seek to criticise anyone who disagrees with me on this point. I have been pleased to say repeatedly that the belief that marriage should be between only a man and a woman is legitimate; people are free to express that view; and the protections in the Bill ensure that religious freedoms cannot be called into question. That is so important. I am grateful to my noble friends for making the points that they did and for giving me the opportunity to restate that, because I cannot say it too often.

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The amendments on which the House divided during the time that the Bill was in this House were not agreed, but I do not agree with my noble friends that no meaningful amendments have been made to the Bill while it has been here. I spoke at some length in responding to the previous debate about the changes that we have made, so I shall not go through them all again in detail. However, as I said, 23 substantial amendments have been made to the Bill—that does not include any consequential amendments. Seventeen of them have been made while the Bill has been in your Lordships’ House. Even though amendments brought by other Peers have not been accepted by this House, the Government have brought forward amendments to the Public Order Act to ensure the protection of freedom of speech. As I have said previously, we have clarified issues around the word “compel”, because we thought that it was possible to do that without introducing any other uncertainty in the Bill or diluting its principle. I am pleased that we were able to do that, and that it was received and accepted so graciously by those who sought those changes.

It is so important to say how much I respect all noble Lords and their views on this Bill. I believe that we have brought forward a Bill that is a force for good and that the change it brings about is right and reflects the change in society. However, there is no question whatever that anybody who disagrees with it should in any way feel that their views have not been properly taken into account during our debates. I said before that I wanted to see that it was possible to put something into law that not everyone agrees with, while respecting our differences of view. I think that this is what we have achieved. On that note, there is probably little more to say, except how grateful I am to all noble Lords for their contribution to the passage of this Bill.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.