THE Scottish Government may officially insist otherwise, but it is clear that the Cabinet yesterday delayed a decision on its proposed legislation on gay marriage.
Yesterday had been pencilled in as decision day at the end of a long process of consultation and debate. The outcome of the Cabinet meeting was, however, the creation of a new Cabinet sub-committee under the convenership of Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, “to further examine some particular issues of detail before a final decision is reached”.
Of course, this is a complicated issue, both in terms of its legal niceties and its politics. On the latter, ministers will be all too aware they are in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” position. A decision to press ahead with gay marriage will be hailed by some as a historic milestone for equality and gay rights, while being condemned by others as the destruction of marriage and the family. A fudge will be celebrated by some as a victory for traditional values, while lamented by others as a denial of basic fundamental rights to a minority group.
On this issue of delay, the government receives the benefit of the doubt. It is right that the process of government is deliberative and considered. We should not condemn politicians for wanting to think things through in full.
If ministers feel they need extra time to work on their final proposal and how it will be presented to the public, then that is fine. Let them take the extra fortnight they say they need. But let them be in no doubt that when the allotted time runs out, the right decision will be to bring forward legislation which will enshrine the right of two people to marry, regardless of their gender.
The delay in reaching a conclusion may well be due to ministers examining various potential compromises in the hope of satisfying both sides of what has been the most acrimonious debate in Scottish public life since the time of the Section 2(a) furore a decade ago (also, it will surprise no-one, an issue about legal recognition of homosexuality as a legitimate way of living a life).
In particular, some church groups have been lobbying hard for a clause that would exempt places of worship from any sanctioning of equal marriage. This argument has obvious flaws, not least of which is the inconvenient fact that some denominations are entirely relaxed – and in some cases positively enthusiastic – about holding gay marriage services in their churches and synagogues.
Are we to preference one faith over another? If so, on what grounds? Numbers attending church? Depth of faith? Political heft? The proposal at present is to allow religious groups the right to refuse if they so wish.
The right to choose trumps the right to block. The Scottish Government must do the right thing and legislate for equal marriage.
A challenge to society
THE release of Stephen Gough, the man known as “the naked rambler”, from Perth prison after six years of incarceration should give pause for thought. Criminals who have committed acts of violence or dishonesty have served shorter prison terms than Gough, whose contravention of the law has mostly been cases of breach of the peace, hardly the most serious
offence in the criminal canon.
This is a man of such single-minded adherence to his
naturist code he seems inured to the effects of prison and has shown no sign of being prepared to conform to society’s norms by clothing himself.
No doubt, to some people the sight of Gough naked is an affront to “public decency”. The problem is that “decency” is defined by different people in many different ways. What is questionable is whether it is decent to imprison a man for year after year, at substantial cost to the taxpayer, because of his philosophical belief about the nature of clothing, allied to a rare degree of stubborness.
This is a tricky issue. There is nothing to suggest Gough is a danger to anyone, or that there is a sexual motive to his determination to be naked. But the offence – and sometimes alarm – felt by many people when confronted with his nakedness is very real. Gough poses a challenge to how society treats people who choose to be different, and the fact that society’s only response to him is to treat him like a serious criminal suggests society has not yet found a coherent answer.
If Gough continues his naked ramble this week, he may well be jailed again. The key question is a simple one: does the punishment fit the crime? In this case, the
answer has to be no.