House of Lords 1961-2 Portrait of Peers by Alfred Reginald Thomson, courtesy Art in Parliament

Today promises a marathon debate in the British House of Lords, as 94 Lords have signed up to speak on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill during the Second Reading debate.

The bill, which would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in England and Wales, was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Commons on March 21st on a vote of 366 to 161.

Expect fireworks.  Here’s a sampling from BBC of what to expect:

The Conservative Grassroots group has called on peers to reject the bill.

“It is alienating much of our core support while failing to attract new voters with under two years to go before the general election,” chairman Robert Woollard wrote.

Last week, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey warned same-sex marriage would set a “dangerous precedent” which could lead to sibling marriage or polygamy.

In an article for think tank Civitas, he said did not want to be “alarmist”, but said it could logically be extended to “say, two sisters bringing up children together” or “multiple relationships, such as two women and one man”.

The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, has even gone so far as to suggest that Queen Elizabeth would break her coronation oath to ‘uphold the laws of God’ if she were to give the law her royal assent.

In an interesting twist on the church-state question, The Telegraph reports that opposition to the bill from the Church of England may be muted for political reasons:

Despite vocal opposition from the Church to the Government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry, it is understood that senior officials have personally urged bishops to stay away from this week’s vote.

They fear that a large bloc of clerics turning up to vote down the bill could rebound on the Church, reopening questions over the right of bishops to sit in the Lords and even raise the prospect of disestablishment.

Lord Dear, an opponent of the bill, is expected to offer a killing amendment today. The outcome is “too close to call”, according to Lord Alli, a bill supporter.  But if Lord Dear is successful in stopping the bill, the House of Commons still has recourse.  From The Independent:

Opponents of the Same Sex Couples Bill will force peers to vote on Tuesday on a “fatal motion” to kill off the Bill before it is even considered in detail by the Lords. Should the attempt succeed, David Cameron will be placed in the contentious position of forcing through the Bill with a rare use of the Parliament Act or abandoning the current legislation altogether. …

The 1949 Parliament Act has only been used four times since it was amended more than 60 years ago. It allows a law to be passed without the approval of the House of Lords and is sometimes billed as Parliament’s “nuclear deterrent”, a term that highlights the magnitude of using the contentious legislation. …

In 2000, after months of debate, the Parliament Act allowed [Tony Blair’s Labour] government to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex from 18 to 16. The use of the Act was described as a “draconian device” intended to derail public opinion by Christian campaign groups.

Naturally, the Lords opposed to the marriage bill contend that the Parliament Act cannot be justifiably used on this particular piece of legislation.  Expect court challenges if it is.

Today’s session can be watched live on Parliament TV starting at 2:30 GMT (9:30 EDT).  The marriage bill Second Reading debate will happen after the Oral Questions period, according to today’s schedule.  The Second Reading vote is expected on Tuesday.  Bill progress can be followed here.