Stonewall provided a handy guide to the phrases they expected to crop up most frequently in last week's equal marriage Second Reading in the Lords (see right, click for enlargement), and sure enough Norman Tebbit managed to hit about half of them in his first couple of minutes, but there's a reason why no-one creates any bingo cards for Lord James of Blackheath's helpful contributions. No Foundation X this time, but the prolonged section where he takes a detour through Sussex had a member of staff who had just arrived in the Chamber concerned that she was somehow attending the wrong debate.
Lord James of Blackheath (Con): My Lords, I got a phone call last week from a former colleague of mine, whom I had not heard from or seen for some time, asking if I would come to his same-sex wedding. I said, “Yes, when is it?”. He said, “As soon as you lot have passed the Bill”. I said, “We might not pass it”. He said, “Well, you’ll vote for it won’t you?”. I said, “No, I won’t”. He said, “Well, you can’t come to the wedding then”. I said, “You’ve just exercised extreme prejudice against me. Why are you doing that? You’re pleading that you want this in order not to have prejudice, and now you’re prejudiced against me because I’m saying that I’m going to vote against it”. Then he said, “It’s not you we want, anyway, it’s your wife—she’ll really make the party rock. Can she come instead?”. I said, “Yes, of course she can. You had better write and ask her. She’ll agree”. They did and she is going.
I said, “By the way, is this anybody I know?”. I thought it might be another member of the team. “No”, he said, “We’ve been together for eight years, but he’s someone you don’t know”. I said, “Good luck”. He then said, “Tell me, really, why you aren’t in favour of this”. I said, “I’m not in favour of it because you’re going to create a series of new minority sectors in the community. You think that you’ve been underprivileged and that you can now get to a point of parity, but you’re going to be like the animals at the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. You’re all going to be equal, but some of you will be much more equal than others. And what are you going to ask for next? This is the way it’s going”. He said, “It’s very unfair”. I said, “Look, my concern here is that this is introducing a new division and a new disturbance into British society at exactly a moment when we ought to be putting all of that behind us and getting on with being one nation, trying to sort out the dreadful problems we’ve got without worrying about creating new sub-divisions—and you are a sub-division that will cause a major rift in society”.
I base that view on the fact that I have had a vast number of letters, as my noble friend Lord Naseby said. I think I have had 393 and only three of them have been in favour of this Bill. One of them, which I thought was very sweet, was from a lesbian Christian society. Another, which was absolutely amazing, was from a major research organisation, stating that homosexuality was good because it was an essential part of the evolutionary process for the human psyche. I am still trying to work that one out. As for the rest, everything has been a heartfelt expression of the anxieties that people have over what this will mean for them.
I live in West Sussex, where we have a very strange situation. On the border of the diocese of Chichester, we have two villages called Eartham and Slindon. They are a case study in how the British public reacts. Eartham is a Catholic community and Slindon is Protestant. On one day each in the past 450 years, the populations of those two villages have got up, presumably had a good breakfast and gone out with the express intention of massacring the entire population of the other. They both failed, but they had a very good go at it. The point is that two villages can hate each other to that extent on religious principle and do it for so long.
We have now at last got it sorted out. The tragedy of Slindon and Eartham is the first thing that strikes you when you walk into them: there are no war memorials for the First World War. That is serious. If you do not have a war memorial in a village, it means one of two things. It usually means that somebody in that village was executed for desertion and, therefore, the village is suffering from shame and shock and will not put up a war memorial. In Slindon and Eartham there are no war memorials, but not for that reason. The reason is that when you look at the names of the people who died there—a lot died at the first Ypres—the same names appear on the Catholic and Protestant registers. They are not the same people. They are brothers divided by their religion, which is shocking. That they can live together, go to war together and die together, but not be remembered together, is an outrage. I hope that the right reverend Prelates in front of me will give some serious thought to the possibility that there is a wonderful opportunity for the Church of England to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War next year by setting about a systematic correction of all the missing war memorials in the country to include the 304,000 people who were led out by Protestant priests to face the firing squad. It would be a very nice gesture after this interval of time, and it is way overdue.
We have here an extremely unquiet and disturbed community, which is expressing grave anxiety over what it has. We have heard today that there are real reasons why we have not thought about this long and hard enough. I will wholly support the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his vote tomorrow [to try to derail the Bill], and hope that we will get down to some serious thinking to put it right.
The one word I have not heard enough of today is “marginalisation”. There is a real prospect of marginalisation coming in here. I am particularly unimpressed by the story of the Australian sexual equality board, which received a complaint from the two opening batsmen of the Australian women’s cricket team saying that they had been dropped because they were the only two non-lesbians on the team. They wished to complain, whereupon the board wrote back and said, “If you think that this board exists to look after the interests of a couple of straights like you, you have got another think coming. We exist only for the sake of looking after the gays”. That is marginalisation. The board then rather spoilt the argument by saying, “In any event, ladies, neither of you scored enough runs to be worth bothering with”. [Hansard]