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UK: House of Lords votes for gay marriage bill

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — With a healthy 242-vote majority, the House of Lords voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales after two days of impassioned debate, defeating a so-called "fatal" amendment to deny the measure a second reading.

The amendment, spearheaded by Lord Dear, was defeated by a vote of 390 to 148. The bill now heads to committee in the Lords, where it faces further line-by-line scrutiny on the floor of the Upper House, Pink News reports.

The debate began on Monday at 3pm, continued until  10:45pm, and then resumed today.

More than 90 peers had signed up in the House of Lords to debate the bill in the leadup to today's vote, and there were mixed opinions among observers about whether there were enough votes to prevent the bill from being scuppered.

In a piece for Pink News, Baroness Thornton, the Labour Party's Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords, had expressed confidence that the bill would be approved. "Yes, some opposition speeches will be vociferous, and yes some will be a little bizarre. But we also know the votes to support this bill are there, in good numbers," she wrote.

During Monday's sitting, Pink News noted that peers who debated the measure were more or less equally divided on whether they were for or against it. While Baroness Knight compared being gay to being blind, and Lord Hylton said gay people have stolen the word "gay" away from its original meaning, Lord Black, who is gay, told the House that he believed in family values and wanted to get married. In speaking for the bill, Labour Lord Alli, who is gay, praised the many Conservative MPs who voted for the bill in the House of Commons.

He added, “Last week in Nigeria a law was passed prohibiting gay marriage with a 14-year prison sentence for anyone taking part in gay marriage. My lords, that means people like me making arguments like these.” 

Then there was Baroness Barker, who publicly revealed for the first time that she is in a same-sex relationship.

"I think this is a very proud moment for the House of Lords; I think it has shown its generosity and spirit," she said after the vote. "I think it has shown its relevance and understanding of young people. You never like to take things for granted, and the opposition to this has been highly well-funded by these Evangelical Christian groups, and they’re very well-organized at getting their propaganda around, so I didn’t take anything for granted at all.”

After a cautious statement on the eve of the vote, warning against any assumption that "equal marriage is a done deal," gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said today's thumbs-up vote "is a victory for love, marriage and equality. We are another step closer to our goal of equal marriage. It signals that the House of Lords accepts the principle that we should all be equal before the law.” 

But James-J Walsh, director of campaigns at Out4Marriage, says the House of Lords vote was just one of many battles to be fought before gay marriage is legalized, pointing to what he called “disastrous” amendments that may still be tacked on to the bill. One such amendment includes the exemption of registrars from having to perform same-sex ceremonies, as well as allowing teachers to privilege their personal beliefs over a "balanced view of both straight and gay couples," Pink News says.

“It’s vital that we don’t have any regression on what we have already achieved, and to do that we must make sure we keep the pressure up on the Lords," Walsh adds.

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