Marriage is about joy, whatever your gender

The Shadow Home Secretary hopes the happiness of wedded equality will drown out the angry brigade

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The Independent Online

Tomorrow the equal marriage Bill is back in the Commons – and it's about time it got the celebratory fanfare it deserves. So far we've heard the shouting from the Tory right. Ministers are gritting their teeth and wishing it was over. The Prime Minister has gone to ground. Yet this Bill is no embarrassment to be rushed through: it is a cause for celebration and I hope MPs across the Commons will feel proud to pass it this week.

When couples love each other and want to make a commitment we should celebrate not discriminate; it means gay and lesbian couples can love, honour, cherish and, yes, grow old and grumpy together under the banner of marriage just like their parents – just like everyone else.

Some people object to same-sex marriage because they believe it goes against their faith. I respect their views though I disagree with them. But freedom of religion is protected in the Bill so no faith, priest or religious organisation will have to conduct a same-sex marriage.

Others claim that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman or, as the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, said last week, that the marriage of heterosexual couples is being redefined by this Bill, too. But how on earth does a gay couple throwing confetti at the registry office change my marriage – or Philip's? People shouldn't hide discrimination behind a "definition". Marriage has changed over the centuries – women are no longer treated as their husband's property and rape in marriage is no longer legal. It needs to change again so that same-sex couples can be equal before the law.

Nor should we take seriously the argument that this is taking up too much parliamentary time. The Government has given MPs 19 days of recess in the last two months alone. The coalition hasn't put much in the Queen's Speech and there's a dearth of parliamentary business.

Philip Hammond wants to talk about the anger he says the Bill has provoked. I want to talk about the happiness.

Many people contacted me after the second reading to say how much they were looking forward to celebrating their own relationship: setting the date, throwing the wedding party, getting married. One man wrote to me to say: "I've had people tell me all my life that I am less worthy, wrong and sinful because of my sexuality … it can really and truly hurt." Yet, he said, watching MPs "so publicly and passionately support the rights of people like myself and many others to have a more equal standing in society is really one of the most empowering things that can be done."

So over the next two days I hope we hear people championing and supporting couples who want to get married whatever their gender or sexuality. Let's hear it for the joy.

Yvette Cooper is Shadow Home Secretary and Labour spokesperson on women and equalities