THERE is “no prospect” of a successful court challenge which would force churches and ministers to conduct gay marriages after they become legal, health secretary Alex Neil said today.
He hit out at the “scaremongering” of opponents to the change in Scotland and dismissed claims from the Church of Scotland that it could be forced to stop conducting weddings.
The first gay marriages in Scotland are expected to be staged in 2015 under new laws which are going through Holyrood at the moment. But it has prompted a fierce public debate, with the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland opposing the change, while equalities campaigners demand an overhaul.
Churches would have to “opt-in” to conduct gay marriages under Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. But concerns have been raised that the change would open the door to a human rights challenge against churches or individual minsters and priests which refuse to marry same sex couples.
Nationalist MSP John Mason said today that churches appear to be performing a “public function” and same sex couples could demand the right to marry under equalities legislation
But Mr Neil dismissed this during an appearance before MSPs on Holyrood’s Equal Opportunities committee.
He said : “It’s legally watertight in terms of any potential challenge under the European Convention of Human Rights legislation.”
The convention does not include a right to same sex marriage, he added.
“I think there’s been a fair bit of scaremongering on this issue.
“The reality is that we’re absolutely sure that there is no prospect of a challenge in respect of this matter.”
He added: “I’m as sure as anyone can ever be that there is no prospect of any successful challenge.”
The Church of Scotland had told MSPs earlier this year that it was looking into the prospect of ending marriages altogether because it could not afford the cost of lengthy court battles resulting from a legal challenge.
But Mr Neil said: “There’s nothing in this bill that would force the churches to abandon carrying out marriages.”