Peter Ricketts

Peter Ricketts

Ambassador to France from February 2012 to January 2016.

Part of Foreign Office Human Rights UK in France

8th February 2013 Paris, France

Debating on gay marriage in France and in the UK

Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge © Parliamentary Copyright
Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge © Parliamentary Copyright

One of the striking things about Britain and France is that our two societies are often dealing with very similar issues at the same time. There is a clear example of that this week where, in both the British Parliament and in the French National Assembly, the issue of gay marriage (or “mariage pour tous” in France) is under active parliamentary debate.

Written version (continued)

The difference is that, in France, it is a much wider public disagreement and debate – there were indeed big demonstrations in the streets with several hundred thousands people demonstrating on both sides of the issue. I think that is because the French legislation is dealing not just with the right of gay people to get married, but also a number of the deep social issues that go with that: the right to adopt, the right to have IVF treatment for same sex couples.

Those rights actually already exist in the UK. So it is a more narrowly focussed bill in our Parliamentary discussions, specifically on the institution of marriage. Very important issue, significant divisions, particularly in the Conservative party, and we had the first vote in the British Parliament this week, with 400 in favour and 175 against, but one of the parties quite deeply divided.

The Prime Minister was clear from the start that for him this was an issue of conscience, and therefore there was an entirely free vote. It was up to the members fo Parliament to follow their own conscience in voting on that issue. That debate is to continue in both Parliaments, but it is interesting to see both countries dealing with the same issues at the same time.

I just wanted also to tell you one of the things I’ve done this week, which is a visit to Strasbourg, where I had the opportunity to go to a new cluster of high tech French businesses called “Biovalley”, where a number of quite small companies in the medical technology and pharmaceutical research areas are working together, and we were there to see if we could develop some partnerships with small British high tech companies, so each can help the other to grow.

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