There are many wonders in this new age, some which even the writers of the Holy Scripture could not have envisaged. One, which it seems is now commonplace, is that mothers can give birth to children without the assistance of a father, yet not by parthenogenesis. I hear that my noble Lords have been discussing this and that senior Bishops have raised objections to proposals issued by the Government, proposals which would enable a woman to register another woman as the father of her child or, perhaps, as a second mother. To me such proposals are unconscionable although I had not favoured the inclusion of adults, acting with free will, in our Bill of 1885. That Bill was the fruit of many years of my research into the exploitation of women, research I should say undertaken at the cost of considerable temptation and fleshly suffering to myself, and it led to many necessary legal protections, especially for girls under the age of consent. Under Salisbury's government, that fool Labouchere added in a clause that made criminals of adult men indulging in private acts; I know not what he had to gain from it or whether he had matters from which he wished to distract attention. It is a matter of shame for our age that it led to the persecution of that fine writer and genuine wit Mr Wilde. It is, I believe, entirely untrue that the legislation was influenced by Her Majesty passing comments on the possibility of members of the fairer sex committing unspeakable acts with themselves although, in truth, it was Salisbury who was privy to that most awkward of conversations rather than myself.
With regard to the matter at hand, our bishops, it seems, are exercised that children may be raised without fathers and, not only without fathers, but in the belief that their second mother is in fact their father. Our own Baroness Tonge, however, has assured the noble Lords that failure to support the measure would be discrimination against those who are otherwise merry and would, presumably, reduce their sum of total happiness.
So to whom am I to incline, the Bishops or the Baroness? In spite of my reverence for the Holy Church, I am aware that its bishops are only too human and indeed have erred on many occassions through involvement in the secular sphere, although they are also capable of calling legislators, bogged down in the morass of affairs, to consider higher matters. It is no novelty that women should dwell together as friends when no husband is available although I find it surprising that now they undertake legal ceremonies to enshrine their friendships. Perhaps this is better, especially if they are to raise children, as it is unfortunate for a child to grow in a family not sanctioned by marriage and uncertain as to who its parents may be. My Lord Archbishop of York however informs us that this measure progresses matters to a further depth and creates children who are "fatherless by design". I must plead pity for the bishops for there are many matters in this modern age that challenge Christian morality and, indeed, the Christian traditions of our nation. Each step is taken for good liberal and humane reasons and yet the sum of steps creates a nation of fatherless children and childless fathers. I would claim to be vindicated in my original opposition to divorce although Mr Mill and many other colleagues repeatedly assured me that it was the most liberal of measures. In respect of the current legislation - to which I may return in the future - some consideration is need as to what difference of reality this new measure will make to the child as, regardless of the birth certificate, it will be raised quite legally with two mothers and always could be. Under the legislation, should the "mothers" part, one may claim rights of access and care for the child although not being a natural mother. This woman might legitimately claim she has sacrificed natural motherhood to share her maternal instincts with another woman.
I concur with the Archbishop that the State should take care not to dissipate the role of fathers and their place in families and, indeed, as married husbands in the household. In this instance I would urge His Grace and the Minister to consider also the role of the second mother who will exist in these families. Following a parting or a divorce, it seems to me the growing child will have more inclination and curiosity about their natural father, who shares their very material, their stuff of life, than they will about a woman who may have shared their mother's life for a period. And yet both child and second mother may also share familial affection and should not be automatically parted. These are different and difficult matters, not to be solved by a name on a birth certificate.