This amendment will apply to existing marriages between opposite-sex couples where one spouse enters into a same-sex relationship outside their marriage, so it is broader than the marriages of same-sex couples and would right a broader wrong. Unlike the perception of many in this House that amendments today are in effect wrecking amendments, this amendment, like the previous amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is intended to be helpful. It is of a wholly different type and is intended to help faithful spouses to deal

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with this devastating blow to their marriage by treating it as a failure of fidelity, rather than a matter of what used to be called cruelty. I beg to move.

Lord Alli: The noble and learned Baroness will recall that I also spoke in Committee on her amendment. The issue we wrestled with then is the same that we are wrestling with now, which was that definition of adultery and the sexual act that defines it. I see that the noble and learned Baroness has said that a judge could interpret that but in every instance bar that of a lesbian relationship, we could find an accommodation. The issue of how you define adultery between two lesbians is something we have tackled over and over again from the Civil Partnership Act onwards. I do not believe that the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment deals with that. I have huge sympathy regarding the issue that she raises but I do not feel that the amendment is drawn in a way which will make it clear. Given that there are grounds of unreasonable behaviour, it is probably unnecessary.

Lord Pannick: My Lords, I, too, cannot support this amendment. Under existing law, if a married man has a sexual relationship with another man his wife cannot sue for divorce on the ground of adultery. She can sue for divorce on the ground of unreasonable behaviour, based on sexual infidelity. As I understand it, the Bill adopts the same approach in relation to same-sex marriage and sexual infidelity with another same-sex partner. This seems to be consistent with existing legal principle. It involves no detriment whatever to the other party to the marriage, who can obtain a divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. I, too, am concerned about the uncertainty inherent in the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment. What is,

“a sexual act … similar to adultery”,

in the case of lesbians?

Lord Deben: My Lords, my mother was always rather diffident about what she referred to as “things down there” and I rather feel that the noble and learned Baroness has attempted to recreate my mother’s views in what she has tried to say here. I find it hard to believe that a definition of a sexual act similar to adultery is one which is precise enough, even for the most learned of Lords. I feel that it does not achieve anything. We have another way of dealing with these things and, if I may say so, a rather more all-embracing and less detailed way of doing so. I am not ashamed to understand that Ministers have discussed this and have come to the conclusion that none of them want to produce anything more precise than has been produced. I have sympathy with them; we all should have.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, some provisions which appear fairly late in the Sexual Offences Act would have sufficed as a definition, but there is a point to be made about the distinction between the grounds in same-sex marriage and those in opposite-sex marriage. Adultery is mentioned in particular in relation to unreasonable behaviour in opposite-sex marriage. This is an imbalance between the two, which are supposed to be absolutely the same. It seems an unnecessary difference and the noble and learned Baroness has put her finger on an important point so far as this is concerned.

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Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I, too, wish to speak to this amendment. While the law retains adultery as a ground for divorce, I believe that it should be applied equally. I think that I am right in recalling that perhaps this could have been short-circuited, as I believe there remains on our statute books, although it is not in force, a whole provision in relation to no-fault divorce. However, until we are in the position where people do not use fault as a ground for divorce, it is my submission that it should be applied to all situations.

There is inequality here. It is as unjust to gay couples as it is to heterosexual couples, as neither of them can ask for divorce on the grounds of adultery with someone of the same sex. Although I appreciate any humour that we can inject into this debate, as my noble friend Lord Deben just did, this is a serious point. One has only to look at some of the support group websites that exist. The one that I have come across is for wives who subsequently discover that their husband is in a relationship with a man. The support group website that I looked at this evening talks about pain, loss, betrayal, confusion, loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation. To be told that if your husband leaves you for another man it is just unreasonable behaviour, but if he were to leave you for another woman you could petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery, is, I believe, unjust.

Bizarrely, that means that the only couples in either of our marriages—heterosexual or same-sex—who are in a just situation are those to whom my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay referred: platonic friends who take advantage of this legislation. After all, as a sexual relationship was not the basis of their marriage, they cannot complain that adultery is not available to them. I think that we have left the law in not just a muddled state but an unjust one, and it is important to recognise that.

I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says that this is the existing law, but if we are saying that culture is changing and we are changing the law on marriage, surely the same argument exists in relation to the grounds for divorce—that we must change. However difficult the definition of problems can be, there is a good case for saying that we have to change these grounds at the same time as we change marriage law.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I confess that I had trouble with the wording of this amendment, along the same sort of lines as the noble Lord, Lord Deben. It says,

“or a sexual act with a person of the same sex similar to adultery”.

I was wondering how similar and at what proximity, and whether you would want a judge to take that sort of decision. We can probably agree that the amendment does not serve even the purpose that the noble and learned Baroness wishes it to. We agree with the Government that it is unnecessary to replicate the requirement.

There have been several times in the course of today when noble Lords have referred to platonic relationships. Actually, there is no requirement to consummate a marriage; you can have a platonic

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marriage as a same-sex marriage or an opposite-sex marriage, so I am not quite sure what point noble Lords have been making there.

We also believe that it is unnecessary to legislate for dissolution on the grounds of adultery. It is sufficiently provided for, and I think that the Government got it right in consultation that the grounds of unreasonable behaviour exist. Indeed, since the commencement of the Civil Partnership Act in 2005, this has proved to be entirely unproblematic and I think we should just leave it as it is.

12.15 am

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for introducing her amendment and for ensuring that we are, again, post-watershed. I did not design it this way but, as someone who used to work at the BBC, I am always so much happier when I know that we are compliant with broadcasting regulations.

I will start by addressing one angle that underpins this amendment and the debate associated with it, and that is about fidelity. It was something to which my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay referred. I want to be absolutely clear that the Government recognise the importance that couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, attach to fidelity in their relationships. The seriousness and the intention of same-sex couples wishing to make a commitment to each other are no less serious than that of opposite-sex couples. There is no difference in the intensity of the commitment and fidelity is every bit as important for same-sex couples who wish to marry as it is for opposite-sex couples.

The provisions in the Bill do not, in any way, imply that fidelity will be less important in marriages of same-sex couples than it is in marriages of opposite-sex couples. It is important to make that point, not so much in relation to what the noble and learned Baroness said today, but certainly following up on the debate that we had in Committee, and the comments of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, lead me to make that clear.

It is important to remember that betrayal in close relationships can, unfortunately, take many forms. A partner can be unfaithful by sharing confidences and not necessarily by sharing a bed. I make that point because I think that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said in Committee, when she was moving her amendment, that for her the opposite of fidelity was adultery. However, I would argue that the opposite of fidelity is infidelity, and infidelity takes many forms; it is not necessarily about adultery via a sexual act. Her amendment, as we have heard, seeks to create a new fact for divorce to sit alongside the current fact of adultery in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This new fact would apply to sexual activity, similar to adultery, of a married person with someone of the same sex outside the marriage, and it would apply to all marriages, whether of same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

The effect of this definition is not clear as we do not know what sexual acts would be covered by the amendment. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is worth reminding ourselves that the

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definition of adultery that exists in law now took decades to be defined through case law; it was not something that was established overnight. If we are to introduce something called “similar to adultery”, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has said, this lack of clarity would mean that all married couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, would not be clear about the grounds on which they could obtain a divorce. Neither same-sex nor opposite-sex couples would benefit from the extended facts to constitute adultery inserted by this amendment.

The provisions of the Bill on adultery provide that the same long-standing definition of adultery, set out in case law, will apply to both opposite-sex and same-sex married couples. I would argue against what my noble friend Lady Berridge and others said, that actually the Bill creates some inequality by keeping the definition as it is. We are not introducing a new inequality; we are continuing as we are now.

Without getting too graphic, the definition of adultery is very specific and relates to a sexual act between a man and a woman which is not physically possible between two men or two women. That act has been established by case law over decades, and because of that, it is not something that can apply to relations between people of the same sex.

I was going to offer some explanation as to how the law on adultery works. Noble Lords have covered this very well in the contributions that have already been made, but if the House will indulge me, I think it is worth being specific about this because after we had the previous debate I talked to one of the policemen as I was leaving the building. He had been very amused by our debate that evening and seemed to think that off the back of it adultery would not necessarily apply any more and that people would not be able to divorce each other on those grounds. I explained to him how adultery works. As he found that so interesting, I thought I might do it for the benefit of noble Lords.

As the law stands, if I was married to George Clooney and he was to have a sexual affair with, say, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that would be adultery. If I was married to George Clooney and Mr Clooney had sexual relations with the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that would not be adultery because he would not be able to do the sexual act which is very specifically defined in law. Should I wish to divorce Mr Clooney on those grounds, I would do so on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. In future, if the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was to marry Mr Clooney, and Mr Clooney was to have an affair with me—and who would blame him in those circumstances?—that would be adultery and the noble Lord, Lord Alli, should he choose to, would be able to divorce Mr Clooney on those grounds. If the noble Lord, Lord Alli, were married to Mr Clooney and Mr Clooney had an affair with, say, my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood—

Lord Black of Brentwood: Hear, hear!

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: That would not be adultery, but the noble Lord, Lord Alli, would be able to divorce Mr Clooney, should he choose to, on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. The point I am

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making is that the arrangements relating to how adultery works will remain the same in the future as they are now.

When a marriage breaks down, it is a very serious matter and of huge regret. The number of divorces on the grounds of adultery is falling. The latest figures show that 18% of divorces are on the grounds of adultery. The figure has fallen quite rapidly over the past 10 years. Adultery is not the grounds on which most people seek to divorce one another. We hope that all marriages, whether they are between a couple of opposite sexes or the same sex will continue, and that they will be faithful and remain happy and contented. If that is not the case, we believe that the existing provisions are perfectly adequate for divorce to take place, and I therefore hope that the noble and learned Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, who put very well indeed the points that I put previously and did not put today. The particular point she made was about injustice. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said, inequality comes from this Bill. That is perhaps the most important reason for raising it.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that it is not a funny matter, whatever his mother might think. I am talking about a really serious issue, although it was very attractively put by the Minister in her excellent exposition of the existing law, which I could not fault. The fact is that everyone thinks it is rather funny. There is the policeman saying it is rather funny, but we are dealing with a truly serious matter. One of the causes of the breakdown of marriages is the way in which one of the spouses goes off and prefers another

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person, male or female, to the person to whom he or she is married. That is the basis of the reason that I raised it.

Despite what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, no one is ever going to challenge this. All these divorces are undefended. They all go through in three months because almost never is there a defended divorce. I would be astonished if there was a line of case law on this unless somebody took it up, although that is very unlikely.

However, the alternative, which the Minister might just take back, even to the Law Commission, is to ask: as marriage is now for everyone, is it appropriate that we have adultery at all? Would it perhaps be better to have an equality whereby adultery was removed, and all relationships, whatever they may be, were dealt with by irretrievable breakdown of marriage and unreasonable behaviour? However, if adultery is to remain, it remains an inequality and an injustice. Like other noble Lords, I have received the most heartrending letters by e-mail from women who describe how they have been treated by a man who has gone off with somebody—with another man. The purpose of this amendment was to broaden the issue beyond same-sex marriage to heterosexual marriages in which one partner goes away with another man or another woman.

However, it is perfectly obvious, at 12.25 am, on the last amendment of the evening, that I would not put noble Lords through the burden of having an ineffective vote which I could not win, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 75 withdrawn.

Amendments 76 to 83 not moved.

House adjourned at 12.26 am.