As people live longer, the family commitments involved in marriage are much wider than bringing up children.
Most MPs will know the sadness but also the inspriration they have drawn from visiting a married couple where for example the wife is now struggling to cope, struggling to remember the world around her and struggling to recognise even the husband she has shared decades of her life with. Yet he carries on. Cooking for her, washing her, getting her up, putting her to bed, talking to her even as she becomes a stranger in front of him. That is marriage.
But I also visited a gay man who died some years ago, after a long illness in which he was cared for every day – at home, in hospital and eventually in a hospice - by his long term gay partner. I don’t see why that can’t be marriage too.
The idea that the biology of procreation should deny same sex couples the respect that comes with marriage, is to ignore the full richness, the happiness but also the tragedies of modern family life For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health That is marriage …
The truth is that gay and lesbian couples have been locked out of too much for too long. People locked up, or punished for loving someone of the same sex until the 1960s. Gay men told by the Home Secretary in the fifties they were a “plague” on this country. Lesbian women forced to hide their relationships Teenagers bullied at school with no protection. Teachers until the early nineties unable to tell the child of a same sex couple that their family was OK for fear it would break Section 28 So much has changed – and in a short time too …
When civil partnerships were introduced, most of the Bishops in the Lords voted against. Yet now Anglicans from such widely different traditions as the former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries and the evangelical preacher Steve Chalke support blessings for same sex partnerships. Soldiers and sailors now wear their uniforms in Gay Pride parades.
We’ve come a long way. And with each step forward the sky hasn’t fallen in, family life hasn’t fallen apart, the predictions passionate opponents made at the time simply haven’t come true. And those opponents in the most part, have changed their minds and moved on. I hope the same will be true again. I hope the opponents today will look back in ten years and won’t be able to remember what the fuss was about.