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Mr. Bercow: Given that the approximate £20,000 cost of that full-page advertisement on page 31 of The Times by the Christian Institute would have sufficed to feed approximately 5,000 people in Sudan for up to a month, does the hon. Gentleman share my astonishment that a supposedly charitable institution should choose to deploy its resources in that way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I would not want us to go too far down that road. Perhaps we could stick to the new clause.

Mr. Carmichael: In that case, I simply say that I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in the broadest terms.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The issue is about freedom of speech.

Mr. Carmichael: It is about tax benefits for charities. That is what concerns me, which is why the Government should look at the conduct of the Christian Institute.

Chris Bryant: It is clear that, broadly speaking, there are two points of view. On the one hand, there is a wholly legitimate view, which I disagree with, that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong, that marriage should only be constituted as holy matrimony, that it is unique and holy, and that anything that looks like support for homosexuality in any shape or form is anathema and abomination.

Miss Widdecombe: I ask the hon. Gentleman to rephrase what he just said. No one has said that homosexuality or homosexual leanings are, to use his picturesque term, an anathema and abomination. What we would say is that homosexual acts are wrongful.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) accused some of us of nit-picking. The right hon. Lady has a great deal of nits to pick yet. Perhaps we should get the nit nurse in.

One view of homosexuality is that it is wrong and that the state should not do anything, in any shape or form, to support or encourage it or, as someone said on Second Reading, to proliferate it. There is another view, which is that homosexuality is simply a fact of life and that everyone, regardless of their sexuality—heterosexual or homosexual—should have the right to formalise their commitment and love for another person, one to another.

The Bill is not primarily about giving to another set of people a tax inheritance right that is currently available only to those who are married, as the amalgamation of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough suggests, thereby giving a special privilege to that set of people that is not available to anyone else. It is primarily about saying that it is not right that the state should never support those who want to make a legally binding and committed relationship secure through a legal commitment, one to another.

I accept that some people believe that that is a wrong route. I note that many people believe that holy matrimony is completely different from civil marriage. Indeed, when the Spanish state in 1870 tried to
 
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introduce civil marriage for the first time in that country—previously, all marriage had been holy matrimony—the Catholic bishops said that it was certain that the project of civil marriage was wrong because civil marriage would never for Catholics be anything other than an "immoral harlotry" or a "scandalous form of incest".

I know that there are those who still hold to the view that civil marriage is nothing to do with holy matrimony. In this country, of course, the relationship between holy matrimony and civil marriage has been rather confused because of the establishment of the Church and the fact that we have allowed clergy belonging to many different Churches to become registrars, and effectively to register civil marriage.

Angela Eagle: Does my hon. Friend agree that the logic of the argument made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in Committee was that we should abolish civil marriage?

Chris Bryant: That is precisely the point that I wanted to make. Some people want to undermine the role of commitment in civil marriage, because they believe that only holy matrimony should apply in this country. Others, such as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who has tabled amendments today, suggest that civil partnerships should be extended to all heterosexuals. I passionately believe that that is wrong, because it would undermine civil marriage and holy matrimony.

Mr. Hogg: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to see why the Church should not bless relationships between same-sex couples, if that is what they all want?

Chris Bryant: I wholeheartedly agree. Earlier, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) suggested that I used colourful phrases in "abomination" and "anathema". "Anathema" comes from her own Church, and "abomination" comes from the Bible, which she reads assiduously, so it is hardly my colourful phraseology. Many people who belong to Churches, as well as Christians, including people polled by the Christian Institute—incidentally, its website address is the rather arrogant "www.christian.org.uk", as if there is only one way of being a Christian and one set of views on these issues—are either homosexuals themselves or accept that homosexuality has been a fact of life since the beginning of time. They believe that people should be able to celebrate that in the eyes of God and receive a church blessing. It is not for the state to legislate—it is for the Churches to decide whether they want to go down that route, and I suspect that, in the fullness of time, many of them may wish to do so.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough made three basic arguments. First, he argued that marriage is singular, unique and holy, which breaks apart the concept of civil marriage, let alone anything that is included in the Bill. His second argument was entirely fallacious, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) pointed out, because he contended that it is usually two siblings who live together. I have not received a single letter about the sibling issue on
 
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behalf of siblings in my constituency but, as I pointed out in an over-lengthy intervention, I have known two sets of siblings who have lived together for more than 12 years or for a large part of their lives. Three spinster second cousins of mine lived together in Aviemore for 70 years, and they made perfectly adequate provision for one another. One problem of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough—it is the only proposal that we are considering, and he cannot submit amendments that suggest that three, four and five siblings should be able to live together—is that three or four siblings would have to decide which two were going to form a civil partnership, which would be profoundly more disturbing for the family relationship than the present arrangements.

Mr. Leigh rose—

Chris Bryant: I have enticed the hon. Member for Gainsborough.

Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman is making a meal of the proposals. The provision was drafted in a certain way, and I am quite happy to extend it, either here or in the other place, to cover more than two siblings. We will do anything that he wants. It does not matter what we propose, the hon. Gentleman would still oppose it, as he knows perfectly well.

2.45 pm

Chris Bryant: And the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, whatever the Government's proposals, he would not accept them. He is disingenuous in the extreme but, more importantly, he is a far more experienced Member than I am, and knows that on Report we can only debate amendments that have been tabled, and must choose whether to accept or reject them. I am just trying to point out that his amendments do not even meet his own arguments, let alone any other arguments that might be made to support them.

The hon. Gentleman's amendments create one final problem. I do not know whether he read the verbiage tabled in Standing Committee, some of which we debated and some of which did not pass muster, but he has decided to change tack slightly today. Instead of a system in which civil partnerships between same-sex couples are extended to siblings—they would have to dismantle their relationships, which would take time, and legal procedures could ruin family links between two sisters or two brothers—he has invented a wholly new concept of a relationship that is easily formed and dismantled. His argument therefore falls at the first hurdle.

Mr. Leigh: I am at fault, because I should have said at the outset that the new clause applies only to siblings who have been living together for 12 years. The provision would not apply to a casual relationship between two people who pass like ships in the night.


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