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Richard Younger-Ross: I do not accept that the Government are not forcing people down any route. People will be told what they can do, but then the door will be slammed in their faces. We must remember that the people involved are under great pressure. They may have felt since the age of five that they were in the wrong body, and gone through life with that feeling. If they are in their 50s, they may have had an operation 20 years ago, and lived as man and man, or woman and woman, for many years. All of a sudden, however, the Bill will mean that their relationship, and the fact that they live with each other, cannot be recognised as marriage any longer.
Mr. Bercow: I endorse the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he agree that the slippery slope or thin end of the wedge argument is discredited in respect of new clause 4, as a result of the publication of the Civil Partnership Bill that is going through another place at present? The Government have made it clear that their commitment is to civil partnerships for same-sex couples, but not to same-sex marriage. Indeed, they specifically and unequivocally oppose the creation of same-sex marriages, so the canard that the hon. Gentleman raises will not run.
Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Gentleman makes his point well, as he did earlier. However, there is no thin end of the wedge in this case, because the number of people involved is so limited. Moreover, new clause 7 is time-limited and applies only to marriages entered into before the legislation is granted Royal Assent. I hope that hon. Members who oppose the Bill will accept that new clause 7 would be a proper amendment to make to the Bill. People who might have opposing views on the Bill could unite to defeat the Government, who have taken an incorrect doctrinal and legal standpoint.
Never did I think that I would be on the same side as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but on this occasion I am. The issue of existing marriages is a difficult one and we discussed it at length on Second Reading and in
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Committee. I have made the Government's view clear again today, and little would be gained from repeating all the arguments.
The new clause is similar to the one moved by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) in Committee and it would allow for the marriages of those couples who were married before the date of Royal Assent to continue. I accept the argument that was made in Committee that such an amendment would naturally limit the number of couples whose marriages would subsist. However, we cannot escape the fact that those marriages would be same-sex marriages, and they are not permitted under UK law. It is as simple as that.
The decision has been difficult to make. As Lord Filkin said in the other place, it is hard to look someone in the eye and say no. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made the point squarely, however, when he said that this is a matter of principle for the Government. I look forward to the debates, in which I shall take part, on the Civil Partnership Bill, but marriage as an institution is for opposite-sex couples.
We do not deny that the Bill will have an impact on the couples in question. However, in deciding whether to seek legal recognition of their acquired gender, people will have to take all the implications of the change into account, including the effect on an existing marriage. That may be difficult, but we are talking about adultsthe Bill will only affect those over the age of 18and they will have to think the issues through. As I said in Committee, the Bill will have an emotional impact on those couples who have to end their marriages, but that will not be unexpected. Couples will have had a long time to prepare for it. Indeed, many couples in that situation have already made their decisions.
We have also considered the practical impact of the Bill on finances, arrangements for children and mutual rights and responsibilities. As I said earlier, the courts will be able to decide on some of the issues that arise, especially in cases of contention between the two parties.
The Government seek to safeguard the nature of marriage as an institution for opposite-sex couples. We do not believe that it is acceptable to create even a small category of same-sex marriages. At the same time, we are working hard to ensure a smooth transition into civil partnership for couples who want to stay together. Indeed, schedule 3 of the Civil Partnership Bill is devoted to providing couples who have to end their marriage with the means to form a civil partnership on the same day as the dissolution of their marriage.
New clause 4 raises an issue that we also discussed in Committee. I said then that the Government had not provided for the situation of two transsexual people who are married to one another, as the circumstances were extremely remote. I have to tell the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) that that remains our position.
For the new clause to have effect, there would have to be a situation in which two transsexual people were married to one another, and both were able to satisfy the criteria for recognition in the acquired gender at the same time. We must also bear in mind the fact that the
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total number of transsexual people in the UK is only about 5,000, and that only between 100 and 200 of them are in existing marriages.
There are only two ways in which the situation to be addressed by the proposal could arise. The first is that two people who married each other in their birth gender, without any feelings of gender dysphoria, were subsequently both diagnosed with gender dysphoria and began to live in the other gender. Given the low incidence of that, it is incredible to suppose that two people who were married to each other would both be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
The second possibility, however, is that two people who were both already living in an acquired gender would marry one another. They would thus be an opposite-sex couple, but would need to marry in the gender in which they were no longer living. The person living as a man would have to present as a woman, as that would remain his gender in law, and the person living as a woman would present as a man. We do not expect that transsexual people will do that. Hence, again, we find that the possibility raised by the new clause is incredibly remote.
Nevertheless, if that possibility were to arise, and both spouses wanted to change gender at about the same time, we think that that would be such a major change in the nature of their marriagewith the identities of the man and wife in the couple swapping overthat it is not unreasonable to require the marriage to end, and for a new marriage to be contracted afterwards.
Mr. Boswell: I am following the Minister's argument with interest and will comment on it in a moment, but can he tell the House whether the seamless procedure envisaged for what would become, under the Bill, a same-sex couple to move from marriage to civil partnership would be available in the annulment of a marriage between persons of different genders who had both received gender recognition certificates, so that they could remarry almost immediately in their acquired gender?
Mr. Lammy: We would expect registrars to look sympathetically on applications for a reduced notice period. It would thus be possible for the couple to remarry on the very next day. There could be a gap of 24 hours during which the relationship had no legal status, but given that the existence of such marriages is an incredibly remote possibility, the Government do not believe that such a 24-hour period would be too problematic.
Based on a fundamental principle, the Government stand by the requirement that marriage is for opposite-sex couples. I realise that the hon. Gentleman's proposal is well intentioned towards transgendered people who are together, but the Government's position is that such a possibility is remote, and in those circumstances, we believe that ending such a marriage and beginning afresh would not be unreasonable. On that basis, I am unable to accept the new clause.
I am somewhat disappointed in the Minister's response. His essential argument was that this is a such a small and unlikely set of circumstances that we should not even contemplate legislating,
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although he sought to dress that up later by saying that it amounted to a radical change in the marriage. I understand that there is at least some significance in that view, but the point is that there is no change of gender.
Lynne Jones: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because the most likely scenario when two trans-people are in a legal marriage is that they will have known each other in their transgender identity, so they will have known when they contracted the marriage that, for legal purposes, the trans-woman was married as a man and that, for the same reasons, the trans-man was married as a woman.
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