Scotland to approve same-sex weddings

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GAY marriages could soon be sanctioned by registrars in larger cities, allowing the public registration of same-sex relationships, The Scotsman has learned.

Civil partnership and commitment registers have already been introduced in London, Manchester and Liverpool.

Although symbolic, the ceremonies do not have the same basis and rights in law as traditional marriages.

Any proposals to approve the partnership ceremonies were yesterday criticised by the Catholic Church in Scotland as potentially “damaging” to the institution of marriage.

However, councillor Archie Graham, Glasgow City Council’s equality spokesman, said: “We tend to look sympathetically on any requests made by the gay community on the grounds that they are a group which is discriminated against.

“Therefore, we would be likely to look at least at the possibility of meeting their needs now that the issue is coming to the fore in England.”

Robin Harper, the Green MSP, has won the backing of almost 20 MSPs in calling for the Scottish Executive to set up a national register of civic partnership which will allow gays, lesbians and unmarried couples protection under the law.

He said: “There are many thousands of people who live in mutually dependent relationships, who are unable to pass on things such as pension, property and inheritance rights.”

Mr Harper said it would be “extremely helpful” for cities to set up their own registers.

The first couple to sign London’s partnership register, both Scots, saw the public declaration as a celebration of the 39 years they had been together.

Since Alexander Cannell and Ian Burford signed the register in September, 400 couples have also affirmed their relationship – with a six-month waiting list for others to do likewise.

A spokesman for the City of Edinburgh, which has forged close links with the gay community, said: “We’ll continue to monitor developments, such as the possibility of new legislation and as with all new legislation, we’d carefully consider our response.”

Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen said they had no plans to introduce a register.

Tim Hopkin, of the Equality Network in Edinburgh, said: “It is useful to have the local council register a public, symbolic commitment.

“One of the reasons why same-sex couples want the law changed is that they want to be able to make a state-recognised commitment to each other.”

Barbara Roache, the cabinet office minister in Whitehall, is currently studying whether a partnership law should be introduced in England and Wales, with the Scottish Executive’s Equality Unit following developments closely.

However, with the upcoming Scottish parliamentary elections next year, gay campaigners fear that the mauling the Executive received over the repeal of Clause 28 would delay any change in the law for at least two years.

The partnership ceremonies were last night criticised by the Catholic Church in Scotland.

A spokesman said: “These ceremonies would appear to be an attempt to mimic marriage without legal responsibilities. We would regard them as pointless and damaging to the institution of marriage.”

Relate, formerly the Marriage Guidance Council, last month predicted the demise of marriage, claiming that by 2030 only one in five long-term couples will be joined in wedlock.