One of Holyrood’s most senior politicians has raised concerns that plans to introduce gay marriage could open the door to polygamy in Scotland.
Labour’s Elaine Smith, deputy presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, suggested the SNP government’s proposals should be put on hold until the impact of the changes south of the Border can be judged.
Those who speak out in opposition are subjected to “vilification and bigotry”, Ms Smith said in a lengthy submission to Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee which is taking evidence into the new laws.
The first gay marriages in Scotland will be held in 2015 if the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill is passed.
The changes will redefine the nature of marriage, the Labour MSP said, which could “cause problems for society overall”.
She pointed to “progression” in the Netherlands, which was among the first countries in the EU to introduce gay marriage in 2001 and now has civil union arrangements for three or more people which has been dubbed “polygamy in all but name”.
Ms Smith stated: “Whilst the government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.
“Further, if the government is sincere about its support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.”
There is “no logical reason” for discriminating against more than two people getting married if the redefinition of marriage is driven by love, Ms Smith adds.
The claims were dismissed by the Equality Network which has campaigned for the changes.
“It is nonsense to suggest that this bill will lead to polygamous marriages in Scotland, and it is quite wrong to suggest that the campaign for equal marriage has anything to do with polygamy,” director Tim Hopkins said yesterday.
“There are around 50 countries in the world which allow polygamous marriage, and in all cases this has come from religious law, or traditional law, not from modern equality considerations. By all means, let’s debate this bill, but let’s have a respectful debate on what the bill actually does, not one about something completely different that no-one is proposing.”
Ms Smith also voiced concerns that MSPs have been cowed into accepting the changes in the face of a hardline lobbying campaign from campaign groups. She has previously talked about the “nasty reaction” she has suffered on social media after speaking out on the issue.
“It is deeply concerning that anyone with an alternative opinion is facing such vilification and bigotry,” Ms Smith adds.
“It may also act as a disincentive to any MSP’s who are having doubts about the legislation itself, or the principle of redefining marriage, to speak out or question the detail.
“That is concerning in a modern democracy.”
So far, 83 MSPs have signed a pledge in support of “equal marriage” but the Equality Network said “no pressure” was exerted on them, insisting this reflects the broad support across the country.
Pro-change campaigners said they have suffered abuse, with Mr Hopkins, MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, adding: “We have always said that this debate should be conducted with respect, have done that ourselves, and call on others to do so also.”
Polygamist took five wives and had 32 children
Polygamy, the practice of having more than one spouse at one time remains legal in many countries around the world. It usually takes the form of polygyny where one husband takes multiple wives.
It was scrapped in the US more than a century ago. It had been common among Mormon communities. Tom Green, left, has 32 children with five women. He was jailed in 2001 for bigamy and child rape.
It is most widespread in Africa where countries like Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya recognise it in some form under civil or customary law. Countries like India and Sri Lanka only allow their Islamic citizens to legally join in polygamous marriages, resulting in many Indians changing their religion.
Elsewhere in Asia, it is permitted for all Muslim men with consent from the first wife, while Malaysia and Singapore allow it for all Muslim men, up to a maximum of four wives.
It remains illegal across Europe although the Netherlands has moved towards recognition of relationships of more than two partners through a “cohabitation agreement”.