SCOTLAND took a major step towards legalising same sex marriage last night when MSPs overwhelmingly backed a change in the law during a historic vote at Holyrood.
MSPs voted by a margin of 98 to 15 with five abstentions to pass the first stage of the legislation in the first full vote on gay marriage at the Scottish Parliament.
Tom French, of the pro-same-sex marriage Equality Network, described the vote as a “huge step forward” for gay and lesbian equality in Scotland.
While equality campaigners back plans to introduce gay marriage, the move has been fiercely opposed by a number of religious groups in Scotland, including the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church.
But the Scottish Government insists the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill will protect the rights of religious celebrants and groups who are opposed to allowing gay couples to wed.
The historic vote means same-sex marriage could be legalised in Scotland by March 2014, if the bill passes two more parliamentary stages and receives Royal Assent, as is now expected.
Health secretary Alex Neil told MSPs the flagship legislation put forward “makes some sensible improvements to marriage and civil partnership law”.
He claimed the bill to introduce same-sex marriage would “further promote equality and diversity in our society”.
However, he insisted it would do so “while respecting the views of those who do not want to take part” as he led for the government in last night’s two-hour debate.
Mr Neil said: “I believe the provisions of this bill will improve our society in Scotland, and make it a much more civilised society in how we treat LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.”
Under the plans, religious bodies would have to opt in to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. If a religious group does decide do this, protection will also be offered to individual celebrants who feel it would go against their personal faith to carry out gay weddings.
“Respect for religious beliefs and views has been at the heart of our work on same-sex marriage,” Mr Neil said.
He insisted Holyrood ministers had “acknowledged the diversity and strength of religious beliefs”, adding: “We recognise, although we disagree, that some people of faith sincerely believe marriage should be between, and only between, one man and one woman.”
In this regard, he said the bill “makes it clear that there is no duty to opt in” and conduct same-sex weddings.
Mr Neil also stressed there was “no duty” on any religious celebrant to solemnise same-sex marriages. To help protect individual celebrants, he said the Scottish Government planned to change the UK Equality Act of 2010.
Holyrood ministers have reached an agreement with the UK government to amend this law to protect individual religious celebrants who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages from the threat of court action claiming discrimination.
“Same-sex marriage will not be introduced in Scotland until this amendment to the equality act has been secured, which I believe it will be,” Mr Neil said.
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson made a personal appeal to MSPs to back the bill, drawing on her own experiences as an openly gay woman.
Ms Davidson, addressing individuals in Holyrood’s debating chamber, said: “Presiding Officer, from childhood you’ve known without even thinking that if you found someone you loved and who loved you in return, you had the right to marry them.
“That same unthinking right to marry is extended to the Cabinet Secretary. The leader of the Labour Party has that right also - so too does the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
“I want that right to extend, not just to me, but also to the thousands of people across Scotland who are told that the law says no, they can’t marry the love of their life.
“And unless we change this law, they will never be allowed.”
Holyrood’s vote last night came after Westminster approved gay marriage for England and Wales by a margin of 366 votes to 161 earlier this year.
However, Elaine Smith, the only Labour MSP to vote against the bill, attacked the same-sex marriage plans, warning it would have “consequences which would have a detrimental impact on our fragile society”.
The MSP, who is also a Holyrood deputy presiding officer, said she had been accused of homophobia over her opposition to the shake-up.
She said: “Since indicating that I did not intend to support the redefinition of marriage, my religion has been disparaged, I have been branded homophobic and bigoted, I have been likened to the Ku Klux Klan, and it was suggested that I be burnt at the stake as a witch.”
She also questioned the strength of safeguards in the bill for freedom of speech and religion.
Ms Smith told how she had been approached by hundreds of her constituents, urging her to vote against the legislation.
“MSPs have a responsibility to ensure that to the best of their ability they are not introducing legislation with consequences, albeit perhaps unintended, that will negatively impact on society,” she said.
“I hope that MSPs have not been bounced into voting yes for fear of being branded homophobic, because they signed a pledge, or because they have not reflected on all of the arguments presented to the government or the committee.”
SNP member John Mason also voted against the bill - one of six Nationalists including three Scottish Governemt ministers who opposed it - as he claimed Holyrood was “not reflecting public opinion on this issue”.
But Labour MSP Jackie Baillie commended the SNP government for taking forward the bill, which received overwhelming cross-party support.
She said: “This bill is about equality. It’s about fairness, it’s about social justice, it’s about values instilled in me by my parents, my community and society.
“For many of us, this is about how we see ourselves as a nation and how others see us - about the values that we hold and whether Scotland is indeed a confident, progressive nation where equality is truly valued.”
She said she believed attitudes were changing on the issue with support growing for same-sex marriage.
Nine MSPs did not take part in the vote at all, including two Governemnt ministers who were away from Scotland on business.
The bill will return to parliament in the New Year, when Holyrood committees will consider stage two of the legislation. There will then be a further third-stage vote on the bill.
HOW THEY VOTED
Those in favour of the motion:
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP), Adamson, Clare (Central Scotland) (SNP), Allard, Christian (North East Scotland) (SNP), Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab), Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab), Baker, Richard (North East Scotland) (Lab), Baxter, Jayne (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab), Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab), Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP), Biagi, Marco (Edinburgh Central) (SNP), Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab), Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab), Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP), Buchanan, Cameron (Lothian) (Con), Burgess, Margaret (Cunninghame South) (SNP), Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP), Campbell, Roderick (North East Fife) (SNP), Carlaw, Jackson (West Scotland) (Con), Chisholm, Malcolm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab), Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP), Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP), Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP), Davidson, Ruth (Glasgow) (Con), Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP), Doris, Bob (Glasgow) (SNP), Dornan, James (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP), Dugdale, Kezia (Lothian) (Lab), Eadie, Jim (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP), Ewing, Annabelle (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP), Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP), Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab), Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab), Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Ind), FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP), Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP), Gibson, Rob (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP), Goldie, Annabel (West Scotland) (Con), Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP), Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab), Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab), Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab), Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green), Henry, Hugh (Renfrewshire South) (Lab), Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP), Hilton, Cara (Dunfermline) (Lab), Hume, Jim (South Scotland) (LD), Ingram, Adam (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP), Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green), Keir, Colin (Edinburgh Western) (SNP), Kelly, James (Rutherglen) (Lab), Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP), Lamont, Johann (Glasgow Pollok) (Lab), Lamont, John (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con), Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP), MacAskill, Kenny (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP), Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab), Macintosh, Ken (Eastwood) (Lab), Mackay, Derek (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP), MacKenzie, Mike (Highlands and Islands) (SNP), Marra, Jenny (North East Scotland) (Lab), Martin, Paul (Glasgow Provan) (Lab), Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP), McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP), McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD), McCulloch, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Lab), McDonald, Mark (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP), McDougall, Margaret (West Scotland) (Lab), McInnes, Alison (North East Scotland) (LD), McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP), McLeod, Aileen (South Scotland) (SNP), McLeod, Fiona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP), McMillan, Stuart (West Scotland) (SNP), McNeil, Duncan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab), McTaggart, Anne (Glasgow) (Lab), Murray, Elaine (Dumfriesshire) (Lab), Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP), Paterson, Gil (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP), Pearson, Graeme (South Scotland) (Lab), Pentland, John (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab), Rennie, Willie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD), Robertson, Dennis (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP), Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP), Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP), Salmond, Alex (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP), Scanlon, Mary (Highlands and Islands) (Con), Scott, John (Ayr) (Con), Smith, Drew (Glasgow) (Lab), Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP), Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab), Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP), Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP), Swinney, John (Perthshire North) (SNP), Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP), Urquhart, Jean (Highlands and Islands) (Ind), Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP), White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP), Wilson, John (Central Scotland) (SNP), Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow) (SNP).
Those opposed to the motion:
Allan, Dr Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP), Brown, Gavin (Lothian) (Con), Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP), Don, Nigel (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP), Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP), Fergusson, Alex (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con), Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con), Johnstone, Alex (North East Scotland) (Con), Lyle, Richard (Central Scotland) (SNP), Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP), McGrigor, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con), Milne, Nanette (North East Scotland) (Con), Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con), Smith, Elaine (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab), Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con).
Those abstaining from the vote:
Brodie, Chic (South Scotland) (SNP), MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP), Malik, Hanzala (Glasgow) (Lab), McMahon, Michael (Uddingston and Bellshill) (Lab), McMahon, Siobhan (Central Scotland) (Lab).
Those who did not vote:
Dave Thompson SNP, Paul Wheelhouse SNP, Patricia Ferguson Labour, Margo MacDonald Ind, Fiona Hyslop SNP, Dr Richard Simpson (Lab), Gordon MacDonald SNP, Stewart Maxwell SNP.