Jun. 5, 2013 (TSR) – During the UK House of Lords debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill yesterday, Baroness Liz Barker stood to make a speech in which she spoke of her love for another woman – revealing publicly for the first time that she, herself, is in a same-sex relationship.
The Liberal Democrat was among the first to speak, said she had to “declare an interest”.
“Many years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet someone,” she said. “She and I have loved each other ever since.”
She continued, “What we are doing today does not undermine any existing or future marriage. It extends the status of marriage to gay men and lesbians who want to make a public commitment in the presence of their families and friends, and sometimes their co-religionists. It reflects the wishes of those people who today do not want just to tolerate lesbians and gay men; they want to celebrate and support them as people in their own right.”
The Bishop of Salisbury has likened opponents of equal marriage to Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery and apartheid.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam previously opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples, but is now the only Anglican diocesan bishop in the country to publicly favor the reform.
Last year he said he was “no longer convinced” marriage should be between a man and a woman.
She went on to say it was a “great relief” to read the letter by the Bishop of Salisbury to Lord Alli, in which he argued “Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly”.
In a letter sent to Lord Alli, a gay Labour Muslim peer, which has been published by the Telegraph, Bishop Holtam distanced himself from the Church of England’s official opposition to marriage equality.
“Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience,” the Bishop said.
Ahead of her coming out in the House of Lords debate, which resumes this afternoon, Baroness Barker wrote for PinkNews.co.uk describing the challenges the bill faces and urging readers to lobby a Lord to support it.
The Baroness is one of the only a handful of openly LGBT peers that served in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British Parliament.
Baroness Barker’s speech in full:
My Lords, I declare an interest. Many years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet someone. She and I have loved each other ever since—that is, apart from the occasional spectacular argument, usually about driving or DIY. As the slogans on the T-shirts used to say, it happens in the best of families. It was therefore with great relief that I read the letter from the Bishop of Salisbury to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in which he said:
“Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly”.
There have been many changes to what constitutes marriage over the years. In 1836, there was the change that allowed civil marriage. In 1949, there was the change that made 16 the minimum age for marriage. Those changes came about because of campaigns that were run by minorities and resisted by majorities for a very long time, but they are not changes that would now be overturned.
What we are doing today does not undermine any existing or future marriage. It extends the status of marriage to gay men and lesbians who want to make a public commitment in the presence of their families and friends, and sometimes their co-religionists. It reflects the wishes of those people who today do not want just to tolerate lesbians and gay men; they want to celebrate and support them as people in their own right.
Some noble Lords say that allowing gay people to get married is unfair because it leaves other sorts of relationships, such as those of siblings, without the same legal rights as those who choose a marital status. If enabling gay marriage will be unfair to another relationship, such as that of two sisters, then existing marriage laws are unfair. I think we all understand that relationships which adults enter into voluntarily are wholly distinct from relationships which are determined by consanguinity. If family members could become civil partners, it would be really easy for a bullying parent or sibling to force a member of their family into a relationship simply in order to protect property. I do not think that any of us want to legislate for that.
A great deal has been made about the issue of a conscience clause for registrars and other public servants. I grew up in a time and a place when discrimination in public services on the grounds of religion was not uncommon. It caused resentment and divided communities. The idea that public servants should decide, according to their personal beliefs, who does and does not receive a public service is just wrong. Taxes are levied on a non-discriminatory basis and services should be provided on a non-discriminatory basis.
Some opponents of this Bill say that we should not be addressing this—not when we have these huge economic difficulties. I disagree. Discrimination always comes with a price tag. In the United States, hundreds of employers—some very small; some of the biggest in the world, such as Nike and Microsoft—are assisting legal cases in support of gay marriage. These employers need to recruit and retain the most productive staff to make their businesses competitive—and that includes LGBT staff. These businesses want their gay employees to be able to focus on their jobs, not to be dealing with the inequality that means that they and their families always have to sit at the back of the bus. If those businesses have figured out that same-sex marriage is good for business, so should we.
This is a Bill about religious freedom. As somebody who was raised a Methodist, that is something that has been important to me all my life. No religion will be compelled to offer a same-sex marriage. On the same basis, it would be wrong to deny the rights of those religious organisations that wish to extend their fellowship to gay people and their families.
There is no impediment which would prevent this House from doing its job and subjecting this Bill to the high standards of scrutiny that it would apply to any other. In doing so, Members of your Lordships’ House will think long and hard, as they always do, about what is right and in the best interests of our society.
I and many of my colleagues on these Benches look forward to joining with noble Lords from all parts of the House to ensure that gay people and their families are afforded the dignity and respect that others take for granted, and that families, faiths and communities can grow stronger together as a result.
Lady Liz Barker was appointed to the House of Lords in 1999, and since 2004 has been the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health in the Lords. She is also a member of various party policy working groups, including those on the Future of Social Services, Liberal Democracy, Freedom and Fairness for Women, and ‘An Age of Opportunity’.
Barker has extensive knowledge of health and social care, acquired through twenty-five years work in the voluntary sector, much of this with Age Concern. She also has a long history of party involvement, having been a member of the Federal Policy Committee since 1997, worked for the Liberator magazine from 1983 to 1986, and chaired the Union of Liberal Students between 1982 and 1983. She was born in 1961 and studied at Southampton University.