SCOTLAND has become the first part of the UK to announce gay marriage will be introduced, after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday confirmed that the SNP government will press ahead with the measure.
• Scottish Government to introduce legislation to legalise same-sex marriage
• Consultation received almost 80,000 responses
• Nicola Sturgeon: ‘We are committed to a fair and equal Scotland’
The announcement followed a bitter national debate in recent months pitting equality campaigners, who insist the change is essential in a modern, tolerant Scotland, against religious organisations fearful it will be restrict their freedom to practise their faith.
A 77,000-strong Scottish Government consultation found that almost two-thirds of people are against the change, but Ms Sturgeon insisted it was still the “right thing to do”.
Religious leaders have dismissed the plans as a “dangerous social experiment”, amid concern that it conflicts with traditional doctrines that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But the move has been widely welcomed by campaigners and political leaders, with the first gay marriages likely to be held in Scotland by 2015.
Ms Sturgeon said yesterday: “We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal, and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships.
“We believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Gay couples can currently form civil partnerships in Scotland, which offer the same legal status as marriage, but are still seen as distinct.
The SNP administration will now seek an amendment from the Home Office to the Equality Act to secure extra protection for “celebrants”, such as ministers, who do not want to carry out same-sex ceremonies, despite their Church endorsing it.
It is possible that the Scottish plans could fall into line with the UK government, which also plans to introduce the measure. A Westminster consultation on allowing civil marriages for gay and lesbian couples closed last month.
Further talks will now also take place with churches and other bodies to see if other safeguards are required to protect freedom of speech and religion, before draft legislation is published later this year.
The Deputy First Minister added: “There’s nothing that the government will bring forward in legislation that will impinge on an individual’s freedom of speech or freedom to practice or preach their religion. We’re considering – and will consider further in the consultation – a freedom-of-speech clause in the legislation.”
A register of celebrants who are prepared to conduct same-sex marriages is now likely to be drawn up, but the precise of
detail of this will be considered in the draft bill.
But a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “The Scottish Government is
embarking on a dangerous
social experiment on a massive scale.
“We strongly suspect that time will show the Church to have been completely correct in explaining that same-sex sexual relationships are detrimental to any love expressed within profound friendships.”
The Scottish Government also insists that the current UK-wide Equality Act has exemptions from equality requirements where these are necessary to avoid any conflict with
the strongly held convictions
of a significant number of the followers of the religion or
But Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland legal questions committee, said: “We are concerned the government will legislate without being able to effectively protect religious bodies or their ministers whose beliefs prevent them from celebrating civil-partnerships or same-sex marriages.”
Tom French, policy co-ordinator with the Equality Network, said: “Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom: the freedom for couples, and religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages; but equally, upholding the freedom of other religious groups to say no to same-sex marriages.
“That’s the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this.”