In an astonishing statement in the Lords, the Government says fidelity is “not required” in marriage.
Baroness Stowell, the Government’s Equalities spokeswoman in the Lords, was put on the spot during a debate about the controversial same-sex marriage Bill.
Lady Butler-Sloss, formerly the country’s top family law judge, asked the Government why there was no provision for adultery or consummation proposed for same-sex marriage.
Lady Stowell – who used to be Head of Corporate Affairs at the BBC – replied for the Government: “In terms of the law, marriage does not require the fidelity of couples.
“It is open to each couple to decide for themselves on the importance of fidelity within their own relationship.”
But Tory MP David Burrowes, a critic of the same-sex marriage Bill, said: “This goes against everything the PM has said about his desire to try and strengthen marriage by extending marriage to same sex couples.
“If the legislation is not urgently amended, it signals the abolition of the law of adultery.
“It will create an adulterer’s charter across both types of marriage, which far from strengthening this great institution will do irreparable damage to it.”
And former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said he was “saddened” by Lady Stowell’s remarks.
He said: “It misunderstands the nature of marriage as a loving and committed union to the exclusion of all others.
“It fails to understand the hurt and damage which infidelity causes to husband or wife and, above all, children in marriage breakdown.
“I hope the Government will reconsider what it appears to be saying about marriage and affirm fidelity as central to marriage itself.”
A Government spokeswoman later said: “She was simply making the point that it’s a matter for couples to decide on how they conduct their relationships.”