Alyn Smith: As a tolerant nation we should embrace equality in marriage
A COLLEAGUE of mine, Pierre, recently married his partner, Mark, at a ceremony in Belgium. It shocked nobody. The sky did not fall. Apart from those present, no-one even noticed or particularly cared.
That’s hardly surprising. Equal marriage has been allowed in this European nation for almost a decade now, and no longer makes any kind of a headline.
Soon, hopefully, the same will be true here in Scotland. Last week we learned that such ceremonies are set to be legal and commonplace here too, with the Scottish Government announcing plans to bring forward a draft bill on the issue for consultation later this year.
For me, and for most Scots, this can’t happen quickly enough. It’s not just the LGBT movement which will benefit from this move, but each and every one of us. We are building a distinctive Scotland which is tolerant, fair, decent, egalitarian and values the individual. Equal marriage reflects all these characteristics.
As an SNP MEP representing Scotland, I get to see how our European neighbours are changing their laws and their countries. Quietly but firmly, our partner countries in the EU and beyond have been building equality into their marriage laws. In the Netherlands, it happened in 2001; in Spain, equality has been enshrined in law since 2005. Sweden made the change in 2009, the following year Iceland and Portugal.
Last month the Danes, who introduced civil partnerships in 1989, brought in equal marriage in churches. The Stefanskirken in Copenhagen draped a rainbow flag over its front and erected a banner reading: “Love knows no gender – congratulations Denmark.” The country’s bishops have written a liturgy specifically for same-sex couples.
It saddens me that anyone in Scotland should feel threatened by our government’s determination to press forward with this legislation. Equality does not infringe the consciences of others: quite the reverse, in fact. No-one is seeking to impose upon deeply held religious convictions, and freedom of conscience is as important as equality. The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, last week made it clear that the position of those who object for religious reasons will be fully protected.
No group has a right to press its view on any other and no religious institution has a monopoly on the definition of marriage and how it should be celebrated. We must, as a society and as a nation, come to a consensus on this. For me, marriage is a bond of love and commitment between two people, a public declaration of that love, and a solemn contract made in full view of society. It is a ceremony resulting in a legal and civil contract, often blessed by religious celebrants. In the Christian tradition, it is often regarded as a sacrament. Whatever the interpretation, though, it is still essentially a contract between two people, made in full witness of their peers, their friends and their families. There should be no inequality at the heart of it.
I’m delighted to see Scotland moving quickly now towards that equality. A majority of MSPs are in favour of it and senior members of every party have committed to it, which means it will hopefully pass through the Scottish Parliament without any problems. Public support is also increasing. Perhaps that is because more and more people recognise that it isn’t gay marriage and it isn’t same-sex marriage: it is simply marriage.
We have a golden opportunity in Scotland to come up with a modern, tolerant society, perhaps a better one than we have been in the past I have faith in the big hearts and good sense of the people of Scotland, as represented in our parliament, to come to a just conclusion. Even today, this remains a nation underpinned by notions of the commonweal and equality – hard to find sometimes, perhaps, but always present.
We all have a natural tendency to be reserved, an instinct to mind our own business and a reluctance to share our feelings. That is in the nature of the Scottish psyche. But we can and will now move Scotland into the premier league of equality. This is simply an opportunity to put our inherent decency into practice – to be civilised, to see the best, to be optimistic and generous and move forward together.
I honestly believe that we can leave division and mistrust behind and look to a brighter future where we see the best in each other. This nation is on a journey in many different ways, making the march towards a better society where we can debate and celebrate our differing points of view without rancour.
I’d like to think that the remaining weeks of this national debate on equality within marriage can be an example of how Scotland should be and how we can hold each other in high regard. This is my homeland. I’m proud of it and proud of what, with our small size and big heart, we have managed to achieve in the world. And I’m confident that very soon, thanks to this new legislation, I’ll be prouder still.
• Alyn Smith is an SNP Member of the European Parliament
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