The issue of gay rights has come to the fore as a result of the PM’s plan to do a deal with the DUP to craft a majority in the Commons. The development occurs as I prepare notes for a short speech I am giving next week, looking at how attitudes have changed in the Lords. I have previously published a post on why the Lords voted by such a massive majority for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. As I noted then, attitudes have changed over the years since I entered the House. When I spoke in 2000 on the proposal to lower the age of consent, I was in a minority, notably so on my own side, but also in the House as a whole. The situation was notably different in 2013 on second reading of the same-sex marriage bill. Those opposing the bill constituted the minority.
Re-reading my speeches, there is nothing I would change in either. Both are relatively short – there was an advisory time limit in the 2013 debate – but that I think is a benefit, since it meant the key points were not lost. For anyone interested, here is the speech in the debate in 2000 and here is the speech I delivered in 2013. I am not sure if my speech in 2000 influenced any members – I received a good many congratulations, but mainly from those who agreed with me. I also got a few strange looks. One peer told me my speech in 2013 did influence how some peers voted, though the only evidence I have is a fellow peer who said that as a result of my speech he was not going to vote against the bill. Every little helps.
Attitudes on same-sex marriage changed markedly in the UK at the start of this century (and have done so more recently in the USA) and it was notable in the 2013 vote how some more traditional peers were voting for the bill. Every main political grouping in the House (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Cross-bench) produced a majority in favour. Looking back on the 2000 debate, I was struck by some of the claims that were made which today would sound outlandish and, in some cases, were simply factually incorrect. Popular attitudes have moved on. We have same-sex marriage and society has not collapsed. I believe it is strengthened.