Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Gay marriage Bill clears Parliament

MPs decided not to oppose a number of minor changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

A new law to legalise gay marriage has cleared Parliament after MPs agreed to amendments made in the House of Lords.

MPs decided not to oppose a number of minor changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

The Bill is now expected to receive Royal Assent later this week. It will then become law in time for the first gay marriages to take place by next summer. Among the changes agreed by peers were protections for transgender couples which will allow people to change sex and remain married.

There will also be a review of whether belief organisations such as the Humanists will be allowed to carry out marriages, while ministers said they were prepared to look at eliminating any difference in the treatment of gay couples when it came to pension schemes.

During the two-hour debate in the Commons, Tory former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth accused the Government of bulldozing the "wretched" legislation through Parliament despite it offending large swathes of the Conservative Party.

Sir Gerald, who previously said the "aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further", warned people who do not agree with gay weddings could feel inhibited from expressing their true views on marriage. The Tory added pamphlets which questioned same-sex marriage had been seized by parliamentary authorities ahead of a meeting he had organised - further heightening his fears of how people against the Bill will be treated.

He said: "I have to say that it is astonishing that a Bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted against, has been bulldozed through both Houses and just two hours of debate tonight is an absolute parliamentary disgrace. I think the Government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches, offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it."

Sir Gerald added: "I do advise the House to be very careful. There are lots of people out there now who despite all that's been said here will feel unable or inhibited from expressing their true opinions that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Because we live in a politically correct society and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens to teachers. How many teachers will feel able to express their views even in denominational schools for fear of upsetting their political masters and might lose their jobs? I hope the Government is serious about moving swiftly to prevent that from happening and the Opposition will also support the Government should it decide to do that."

Openly gay Tory former crime minister Nick Herbert said Sir Gerald's use of the phrase "aggressive homosexuals" took freedom of expression "to an unreasonable extent". Mr Herbert said it would be intolerable to talk of "aggressive blacks" or "aggressive Jews". He said the Bill had not been "bulldozed through" the House but was voted through by considerable majorities in the Lords and the Commons and reflected a fundamental change in attitudes for the better.

All of the Lords amendments were passed without a vote after Sir Gerald and other Tory MPs did not attempt to amend the Bill at the latest stage possible.

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