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Kali Mountford: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I would then expect other people to come to me and say, "What is so inequitable about my relationship that I must have a civil partnership registered yet I cannot marry?" That would be a reasonable position for people to take and if we reached that situation, we would have to accept that we were entering a new form of marriage. Many people currently think that that would be a step too far. It is not a step too far for me to accept that, but I appreciate that it would be for other people. I am trying to find a way to set complex moral values against actual situations to try to make sense of people's lives and allow them to make reasonable decisions.
Hugh Bayley: If, for reasons of pragmatism rather than conscience, my hon. Friend cannot go along with my view that there should be one clearly defined and specific circumstance in which same-sex marriage could be permitted, will she go along with the alternative that I put to the Minister: we should construct within the Bill a legal relationship that would preserve for a formerly married couple who had to divorce because of the Bill all financial and legal rights between each other, including pension rights, that they had when they were married?
Kali Mountford: My hon. Friend makes the right pointthat is what I would like to be preserved. There is no great strength in arguments about whether we recognise relationships in one way or another under lawor before God, if that is people's preferred way of recognising their relationships. However, when making legislation, it is important to ensure that we do not disrupt people's lives in such a way that a decision becomes impossible. That is why we want the measures that we hope will be contained in pension legislation and, most importantly, the Bill to recognise same-sex relationships in a civil manner because the dovetailing of the Bill with new legislation will be absolutely crucial. We will make decisions on the Bill today and in Committee in the light of suspicions about legislation to come, but without any guarantee of that. That is always a difficulty, but is not life always like that?
Friends of mine, who are in the same situations as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for City of York, are faced with the abhorrent decision of whether to stay together or for the gender of one of them to be recognised as she believes herself to be. That is difficult, but there are difficult choices to make in marriages and all relationships. Some people will choose to stay marriedthat is their choice. It is not for the House to say to them, "You must put asunder what you have always had." However, we propose that they should at least have a choice that has not been available to them before. That choice will be paramount for some people.
We have heard about relationships that have survived for 35 years through all sorts of ups and downsnot least of which being the gender of each partner. Such people have relationships in which those matters may be discussed. I suggest that people without such a relationship probably parted many moons ago, so the Bill will help them not one bit. The way in which society views marriage and gender is in transitionit is
Society is moving faster than legislation in some ways, but it is moving slower in other ways. There is a conflict in social opinion between those individuals people know and recognise and what they feel about institutions. We need to get a balance between those real people's lives and attitudes to institutions. That is the situation we encounter when we discuss the institution of marriage in the light of the decision by a small number of people to stay together irrespective of their gender. That is a difficult problem to conjure with, but the Bill will take us a long way towards changing people's actual lives. There will be difficulties for some people, but others will benefit hugely from the Bill.
I talked to some of my friends about deciding between gender recognition and marriage. The big step forward in opinion, legislation and people's rights has been of such benefit to them that although they might decide that they cannot make use of the legislation now, which will be seriously distressing for them, they will accept that many others will benefit because the Bill will change social attitudes so much and so quicklyeven more quickly than changes experienced so farthat the benefits for future generations will be immense. The Bill's contents place it in the middle of enormous social change.
Another set of relationships is vital and has only been touched on. It is difficult to legislate for the relationship between parent and child in the best of circumstances, but it is even more difficult in the circumstances that we are discussing. It behoves us to ensure that if the relationship can be maintained, it should be supported in every way. To decide on the title of a parent post-change is not very helpful. We need to ensure that the relationship between the parent and the child is maintained in law and maintained financially. I know the Bill does not deal with that, but we need to mention that the child should be supported through the Child Support Agency in the same way as he or she would be should the parents decide to part. It is crucial that if the child decides to break contact with a parent because of family circumstances, that child's support is at least maintained. I hope that social structures can be changed over time so that the proper relationship between parents and child can be properly maintained.
In the cases of the people I know, children found it difficult when one parent changed gender, but the love and bond between parent and child was so strong that it was not changed for ever and the good, close, loving relationships continued. Sadly, however, that is not always the case. We need assurances that support for children will be maintained. I have not detected anything in the Bill that makes me think that it will not be, but it needs to be mentioned so that people are clear, when reading the debate, that we are not overlooking children and their basic need for contact with their parents.
I want to pay a couple of tributes. The first is to the House for its maturity. My friends who advised me on speaking in the debate said that I could expect to encounter terrible hostility and cruel and harsh words. I hope, on watching the debate, that they will be relieved that their particular relationships have been held in regard by the House. That will be of some comfort. The debate has been mature and it reflects the maturity of society at large.
In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) whose fortitude and persistence over the years deserves recognition. Some of my constituents who are members of Press for Change have written to her a number of times. They think that our debate is largely, if not entirely, a result of her hard work over many years. The House owes her a great debt of gratitude.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I very much hope that the tone of the debate will continue. I think we would all agree that we have had a measured and reasonable discussion of the subject. I especially hope that that mood will continue, given that I am probably going to be the only Member who expresses a view that is contrary to those expressed so far.
When we talk about the issue it is tremendously important that we express both sympathy and compassion for those who suffer gender dysphoria and that we do all in our power to help people in that condition with some of the practical everyday problems that they face in their lives. At the same time, however, it is important that we are rigorously intellectually honest with what we are about to ask the House to do. My fear is that we are not being as rigorously intellectually honest as we should be.
I ask the House to pause and consider exactly what it is that we are planning to do when we are prepared to say that someone born a biological man will be regarded, with the full force of the law, as a woman, and vice versa. That has profound implications for our Parliament and we should reflect on that. My feeling is that we are not going about the Bill's sensible ambitions to deal with practical problems, which we all want addressed, in the right way and are not applying the right, the appropriate or the really honest solutions.
We heard a bit about the medical background as to what causes gender dysphoria, such as the genetics before people are born. As parliamentarians we have to accept that we are not experts in the field and should defer to those in the medical profession who have studied the subject. I note, however, that when the Government were under pressure and in difficulty in the other place when the medical matters were discussed, it appeared to a number of commentators that Lord Winston was brought in to help them out. I have the greatest respect for Lord Winston. He is an eminent fertility expert who trained as a gynaecologist and an obstetrician, but even he would say that he is not an expert or trained in gender dysphoria. The people who are expert on gender dysphoria are psychiatrists. If hon. Members had taken the trouble to contact the Royal