Tom Peterkin: Respectful debate over gay marriage

Campaigners from the Equality Network hold a rally outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Getty
Campaigners from the Equality Network hold a rally outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Getty
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WHEN MSPs voted to legalise gay weddings this week, it was a good moment for Holyrood. It was not so much the decision itself [a foregone conclusion] that was noteworthy, but rather the quality of the contributions that stood out.

Ruth Davidson has rightly received plaudits for what she described as possibly the “most personal speech” she would ever have to make.

The openly gay Tory leader spoke of the example shown to her by her parents’ strong marriage and her belief in the institution.

Eloquently, she expressed her desire that the next generation of gay people should not grow up believing, as she once did, that marriage would be denied to them.

Given that eight of the 15 MSPs who opposed the bill came from her own benches, it was a brave speech both politically and personally.

Another to give an insight into the human side of the debate was the SNP’s Marco Biagi, who described a feeling of adolescent ostracism when he made the case for equal marriage.

“When all that I saw or knew of gay people was Julian Clary, Kenneth Williams or Graham Norton, I – a boy from a chip shop in Dunbartonshire – did not see myself. I could only conclude that I was different from normal and that what I was was less deserving as a result,” said Biagi.

In another highly personal testimony, the SNP’s Kevin Stewart spoke of being a teenager when society seemed to be “hostile” towards gay people. In his own words, Stewart “decided to play it straight” throughout his teens and 20s, only telling his parents about his sexuality when he was 39. That, he confided, was something he regretted and felt guilty about.

“I kind of slighted them, because their reaction was the same as it had always been in life – unequivocal love,” Stewart said.

Like Davidson, he felt marriage had served his parents well as he argued for it to apply to same-sex couples as well as heterosexuals. “I believe in traditional marriage,” Stewart said. “I think that it has served me well in terms of the parents that I have, the grandparents that I have, and had, and my brother and sister. It has served people so well that I believe it should be extended to all people. I think that is only right.”

Conversely, there were equally earnestly held views that the change in legislation would undermine the traditional view of marriage. Nigel Don, one of five SNP MSPs to vote against the Bill, told members of the theological and symbolic importance of marriage between a man and a woman to the Christian faith.

Conducted in a respectful tone, it contrasted with much of the constitutional screeching that blights so much political discourse at Holyrood.

Whatever one’s opinion on equal marriage, it was difficult not to be impressed by the strongly and sincerely held views expressed on the issue in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.