Late on Monday night, Lord Phillips of Sudbury stood up in the House of Lords and declared himself “immensely impressed” by the quality of the debate about gay marriage. He was, he added, sure that everyone else felt the same. So that you can make your own mind up, here are a few extracts. Start with Lord Campbell-Savours, who explained with an implicit sheepish shrug that he “cannot get his head round” the idea of gay marriage. Or consider Lord Edmiston, who wondered aloud, as if no one had ever thought of this canard before, whether the move wouldn’t eventually lead to incestuous marriage as well.
Nor are those two alone. There is Lord Waddington, who predicted that to profess disagreement with gay marriage would end up designated as a “hate crime”. (It won’t.) There is Lord Hylton, who expressed his regret that “the fine old English and French word ‘gay’ has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority” with the result that “it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning”. That observation made me nostalgic for the days before a small but vocal minority of the hereditary peerage ensured that I couldn’t use the fine old English word “Lord” without anyone assuming that I meant “reactionary bigot with little regard for logic or reason”.
Most striking of the lot, perhaps, is Baroness Knight, who talks of gay people in the sort of glowing terms one might use to describe a beloved but unfortunately backward child. “Homosexuals,” she explained, “are delightful people, very artistic, and they are very loving people, too.” How kind of the Baroness to grant them these qualities, if not the same rights as everyone else! It is, of course, a bit of a jump from 1986, when as a Conservative MP she introduced Section 28 with dire warnings about the “iniquitous corruption” that would expose young people to such a “perversion” as homosexuality, but it’s nice that she’s grown. Soon she’ll be granting that some of them have a good memory for the words to Liza Minelli songs.
There were, of course, a number of fine speeches in the debate as well. But the damage that those Lords who would vote to kill the gay marriage Bill have done to their beloved institution is this: in reading the Hansard report, the words that stick in the mind are those of the reactionary minority. And so I am not inclined to take them seriously, or to believe Lord Dear’s contention that these are the views of a group who “have all championed and supported” a “climate of tolerance”.
Their argument, after all, can be boiled down to a question asked by Lord James: if we give you gay people this equal right, he asked, “what are you going to ask for next?”