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Mr. Hogg: I favour the proposition that same-sex couples should be able to enter into a legal relationship if they wish. I do not want to do that, but I support the rights of others to do so. However, I do not understand why the hon. Lady and I cannot agree that that represents marriagein substance, if not in name.
I have shared my views with the House, but it is important for us to talk about civil partnership and civil marriage because we should not offend or worry people who get married in a church, or appear that we, as a legislature, are stepping into areas on which the Churches have traditionally had their own rules. At the same time, I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's support for civil partnerships for same-sex couples, because it is about time that the House legislated for such an important development.
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The hon. Member for Gainsborough said that he thought that the Government would come forward at some point with a French-style approach on other arrangements for people sharing homesteads. However, it is interesting that he wants to insert such a provision in the Bill. He accepted that the Government are examining the issue, so instead of being a bit more patient, why does he want to use the matter to try to wreck the Bill? Why is he setting the needs of one set of people against the needs of another? Perhaps that is the right-wing Conservative way, but I do not think that it is attractive.
Angela Watkinson: How does the hon. Lady think that the Bill will affect same-sex cohabiting platonic couples? For example, after the war, many women who lost their fiancéesthey went to war, but did not come backspent decades sharing homes. They may wish to avail themselves of all the legal benefits that the Bill will provide, but might not want to register civil partnerships because of the connotations that the debate is putting on them.
Angela Eagle: I suspect that people who wish to avoid such connotations will have to wait for the Government's review on people who are neither in an openly sexual relation nor eligible to get married, but who live together in shared houses. The House must work to recognise the way in which families and people live together, because that has changed over the years. It is time for us to examine the needs of people in various circumstances.
Mr. Borrow: May I return to the argument about civil partnerships and marriage? Does my hon. Friend agree that many of our constituents see marriage in its religious context and think that marriage occurs between a man and a woman and that it should take place in a church? Although they would be sympathetic to a legal framework for same-sex couples, they would probably be deeply offended if the word "marriage" were used in that context. We must understand that many people of good will who have a serious opinion of the religious connotations of their marriage also accept that a legal framework is needed for same-sex couples.
Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend makes a good point in his usual delicate and clear manner. It is far better to make decisions about aspects of social change in a way that unites and brings together people in this country, rather than one that divides them. That is why I congratulate the Government on their approach.
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Lady mentioned the French PACS system. I take a great deal of interest in French society and law. A PACS does not need to mention family members because under the Code Napoléon, one cannot disinherit one's close family.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that lesson in French legal history and I am sure that the House has noted his point. I mentioned his off-the-cuff remark because he said that he thought that the Government would recognise other relationships in due course, yet also argued that such a measure must be introduced immediately, although that would be to the
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detriment of the Bill. I do not know why he did that, but if he was arguing along the same lines as Lord Tebbit in the other place, we can all fathom his real reasons.
Even if Labour Members had a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus and accepted the amendments, I suspect that the hon. Member for Gainsborough would vote against the entire Bill on Third Reading. That puts the debate in its proper context[Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman's laughter confirms my suspicion.
We should oppose the amendments for now, but we should not give the impression that we are not considering the situation of people who share houses, but do not want to be in a sexual relationship, to be civil partners or to get married. Everyone knows that we must do that, so I look forward to reading the results of the Government's review. I hope that there will be further reform so that the Government will deal in a future Bill with any injustices suffered by siblings who live together.
Mr. Carmichael: We are considering new amendments, but we have, regrettably, heard the same old arguments. The motivation behind the amendments is the same as that behind those moved by Baroness O'Cathain in the other place. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) gave the game away when he issued a final challenge to the Minister that if she would accept that the Bill was about gay marriage, he would withdraw his amendments. That betrayed the attitude that underpins both his arguments and amendments. He does not accept the fundamental premise of the Bill, which is that we should offer equal opportunities to people regardless of their sexual orientation, and that is why I shall not join him in the Lobby.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The amendments narrow the scope of those tabled by his noble Friends in the other place. He has gone to some pains to answer the more obvious objections to the ludicrous proposals on divorce. As a result, he has had to create a different regime of civil partnership, which reinforces the point that this is not the place to deal with cohabiting siblings or people in platonic relationships.
The question of inheritance tax among siblings should be dealt with in a Finance Bill. There will be other opportunities to deal with assured tenancies. The hon. Member for Gainsborough has not satisfactorily addressed my objection that, if more than two siblings cohabit, his amendments would lead to obvious conflict and injustice. If the principles of equality of provision for siblings who cohabit is so important, it is also
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important for those who cohabit in family groups of three, four or however many, and not just those who cohabit in couples.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: But we are talking about same-sex couples. Why does the hon. Gentleman not admit that this is a gay marriage Bill and, as such, there is no place in it for any provision for siblings?
Mr. Carmichael: It is frankly obnoxious, and as a Christian I find it deeply repugnant, for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the love of one sibling for another is the same as the love between couples in a same-sex sexual relationship. That is nonsensical.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman why the Bill is not about gay marriage. As a Christian, I believe that marriage is something that is entered into by a man and a woman. That does not mean that I cannot accept that the rights and opportunities of those of a different sexual orientation should be protected in the same way. That is a fundamental premise. Frankly, I do not care if we call it marriage or not. The important thing is the outcome in terms of equality. That is why it is not about marriage and why the Government are right to call it civil partnership.
Mr. Hogg: Is not the hon. Gentleman cavilling at a word? Marriage is the legal recognition of a continuing partnership. He and I would hope that it would be blessed by the Church, but that is not the necessary element. In reality, whether it is a same-sex legal relationship or inter-sex legal relationship, it is the same thing. The Bill provides for the legal recognition of that long-lasting partnership.
Mr. Carmichael: I agree, but it is not me who is cavilling at the word. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's hon. Friends are insisting that the Government say that this is a gay marriage Bill. Their objection seems to be to the title rather than the substance. I am saying that the substance is important, not what we call it.
Obviously good grammar is not considered a particular Christian virtue by the Christian Institute. It has acted well outwith its remit in terms of charitable purposes. The Government should consider that, through the appropriate body.
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