The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which was passed by the House of Lords on Monday night Sydney time, will now return to the House of Commons subject to possible amendments, but it is expected to pass without issue given none were made in the Lords. The bill will soon receive Royal Assent and be officially signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II.
Sitting members spoke in favour of the bill, indicating a shift in the attitudes of the House of Lords, still made up in part by hereditary peers from the British aristocracy and bishops chosen by the Church of England.
“I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and indeed that it will be a positive good, not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally,” said Conservative Party peer The Baroness Anne Jenkin of Kennington.
“My own sons have said that they are proud of me, their father, and indeed their grandfather, for supporting the Bill, and would have been ashamed had we voted against it. We need to recognise that for conservatism to work, we have to accept that the world changes.”
Well-known LGBTI activist Peter Tatchell responded with delight, saying that “after a 21-year-long campaign, we are now on the cusp of securing same-sex marriage”.
“Ending discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage law will overturn the last major legal discrimination against LGBT people in Britain. It is of huge symbolic importance, signalling that same-sex love has social recognition, acceptance and parity,” Tatchell said.
Responding to the vote in the House of Lords outside the Palace of Westminster, LGBTI advocacy group Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill spoke with a more cautious optimism.
“The bill’s progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public’s support for equality — though it’s also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents,” he said.
“Stonewall’s volunteers, supporters and staff have worked flat-out for equal marriage in England and Wales, and Stonewall Scotland’s campaign continues north of the border. We’ll redouble our efforts in Scotland so that every single gay person in Britain will soon enjoy full equality,” he said.
Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome celebrated the decision by the House of Lords, but said it put Australia to shame.
“Australia is now alone among developed, English-speaking countries in not allowing same-sex couples to marry.”
While this same-sex marriage bill only applies in England and Wales, Scotland is already considering a similar bill expected to go to a vote later this year.
The Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a bid for same-sex marriage in April following a campaign by the local arm of the Catholic Church to encourage legislators to vote against it.
Even in the jurisdictions soon to legalise marriage equality, the Church of England is divided on the issue and is currently barred from offering same-sex marriage ceremonies.